Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Reflecting on Wrestling's Exclusion from the Olympic Games
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

March 13, 2013
The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to exclude wrestling as a candidate for the events at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games sent out shock waves that reverberated around the world.

Officials from major wrestling nations flocked to Iran, where the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup was being held, for an emergency meeting that even gave rise to an unlikely alliance between the United States and Iran – two countries that usually lock horns in the international political arena. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, another major wrestling nation, is reportedly planning to appeal directly to IOC President Jacques Rogge for reinstatement of the sport when the IOC Executive Board meets in St. Petersburg this May.

It was devastating new for Japan as well. And for good reason: judo had lost its luster as a national sport amid an ongoing scandal, and these days most of Japan's gold medals come from wrestling. It is particularly noteworthy that three out of seven gold medals at the London Olympics were from women's wrestling, including the gold won by Yoshida Saori, which marked her third consecutive Olympic victory. So, let’s hear it for the sport – Go for it, wrestling!

Meanwhile, I can't help wondering: why now? Having caught wind of the looming crisis, South Korea managed to salvage its national sport taekwondo from the same fate, thanks to the lobbying activities of then President-elect Park Geun-hye. Learning of such maneuverings only increases our amazement at the level of information gathering and crisis management on the part of those involved in Japan, who were taken by complete surprise by the decision.

No offense to taekwondo, but is it truly more worthy than wrestling to be an Olympic sport? If anything, wrestling is a sport that has symbolized the Olympic Games since ancient times. For this reason, those in the wrestling community didn't even dream it could become a candidate for exclusion from the competition. Yet, if such had been the case, we should also question their conceit and overconfidence, in addition to their risk management capability. Tradition alone does not guarantee survival.

Having said so, what I find most questionable and objectionable in this matter is the status of the IOC Executive Board, which monopolizes the authority to make life or death decisions on each competitive sport. The Board consists of 15 members including the President, four Vice-Presidents and ten directors. There are currently nine European members including the President, two Vice-Presidents and six members, which gives them a more than comfortable majority.

None of the members are from major wrestling nations – the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Japan. Neither are there any members affiliated with international wrestling organizations. Incidentally, modern pentathlon was retained along with taekwondo in the latest decision. But does it rank so much higher than wrestling in terms of the number of contestants, spectators and fans? When we learn that the First Vice President of the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) happens to be the son of former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and that he himself sits on the IOC Executive Board, it is no wonder that questions arise over fairness and transparency.

Members of the Executive Board serve a four-year term. They are elected at an IOC Session, although in reality nominations are made at the President's discretion, according to sports writers. Thus a considerable number of the members are expected to be replaced in September, when President Rogge is scheduled to retire.

The latest news reminded me of the term "Old Europe" expressed by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld some time ago. Over a century has passed since the IOC was established and the modern Olympic Games began. The IOC should be commended for the effort and political muscle it has shown in becoming an international institution with an overwhelming presence despite its technical status as an NPO. However, new countries have emerged and the world has undergone dramatic change. The same can be said about the world of sports. The IOC Executive Committee, which has been likened to an aristocratic salon, should shed its old skin and transform itself into a new forum befitting the 21st century.

Keiko Chino is a journalist.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野境子 / ジャーナリスト

2013年 3月 13日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Reflecting on Wrestling's Exclusion from the Olympic Games