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In an era of widespread cheating, an age of multimillion dollar contracts, and athletic egos that are as large as the contracts, it is refreshing to see a sport where athletes continue to push themselves solely for the love of competition.
Such is the case with the sport of wrestling. No television contracts. No professional teams to sign athletes to multimillion dollar contracts. No giant endorsement deals and no hint of scandal.
The sport of wrestling has everything that is right about athletics. The sport takes discipline and hard work. Individuals win because of the time they have put in on the mat, and in the weight room. The outcome of matches is generally determined by the athletes themselves, not by judges or officials. The sport is exactly what sport is intended to be ó sport for sports sake. Man on man, strength against strength, with the best prepared coming out on top.
In addition, go to any wrestling match and you will see rabid, fully-engaged fans.
The sport is an outstanding example of everything that is right about athletics. Yet in spite of all the things going right, wrestling is a sport that is on the edge of extinction.
Prior to the passage of Title IX, most colleges and universities in the United States offered the sport. Now for a variety of reason, including Title IX, fewer and fewer colleges continue to offer wrestling.
In the 1970s, 25 Oregon universities, colleges, or community colleges offered wrestling. That is now down to just five schools.
At last report, just 85 NCAA?Division I?and 220 schools total still offer the sport. This despite wrestling being one of the lowest-cost sports there is to offer. Compare that to the 350 Division I basketball programs.
More than 250,000 wrestlers compete in high school programs in the United States each year, but with fewer and fewer colleges offering the sport, very few of them will have the chance to compete in college.
If thatís not bad enough, now wrestling has received even worse news.
Last week, the International Olympic Committee announced that they would be dropping wrestling as an Olympic sport beginning in 2020.
The decision reeks of politics.
Track and field and wrestling are the two sports that were contested in ancient Greece, and have been contested in every modern Olympics.
The sport is exactly what the Olympic Committee has always claimed sport is supposed to be. Amateur, and played solely for the love of the sport. Yet the committee has still voted to drop the sport. The reason cited is that wrestling is not popular enough with a younger generation of television viewers and does not attract a large enough audience at venues during the games.
This is a patently absurd argument. The Olympic Committee elected to keep modern pentathlon over wrestling. At the London Olympics, wrestling had an estimated television audience of 23 million viewers, compared to just 12.5 million for modern pentathlon. In addition, just 26 countries even competed in modern pentathlon. However, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain, son of a former International Olympic Committee president is on the Olympic Committee and also on the board of directors for modern pentathlon. The vote to drop wrestling was conducted in secret. Nobody knows what the final tally of votes was from the 15-member committee, and probably no one ever will.
The Olympic Committee decision has succeeded in accomplishing something that politicians and diplomats have failed to accomplish in years. It has brought Iran and the United States together. The respective wrestling federations from the two countries are now working together to try to save the sport.
Wrestling has one more chance to remain an Olympic sport. There are currently 25 core sports. The International Olympic Committee will meet at a later date to add a 26th sport. Sports vying for inclusion include golf, rugby, rock climbing, rollerblading, and wakeboarding. Now add wrestling to the mix.
Itís interesting that at both the national and international level, we espouse sports for the sake of sport. We claim that college and Olympic athletics are pure and amateur, but when push comes to shove, it sure looks like money talks. With no professional outlet and limited resources, wrestling has become the poor stepchild of other more lucrative sports.
Thatís not the way it should be. Time is short. Those who love wrestling need to act now, before itís too late and the sport becomes nothing more than a footnote in history.
A good place to start would be to go to the Save Oregon Wrestling Foundation website at www.saveoregonwrestling.org. The site has information about college wrestling as well as a plan to restore college wrestling programs.