Paris: Wrestlers around the world on Wednesday vowed to fight to save the ancient sport’s Olympic status, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to drop it for the 2020 Games.
Japan and Turkey—whose cities Tokyo and Istanbul are bidding to host the Games in seven years’ time —led the calls for the world body to reconsider, as an online petition was organised urging a rethink and gained thousands of supporters.
The president of the Turkish wrestling federation, Hamza Yerlikaya, called the decision, taken at the IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday, “unfair” and a “mistake” that they would seek to overturn.
“To have the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul without wrestling is unthinkable,” said Yerlikaya, himself a double Olympic gold medallist, three-time world champion and eight-time European champion in Greco-Roman wrestling.
“We won’t allow it,” he added.
In Japan, Yerlikaya’s counterpart Tomiaki Fukuda said on his federation’s website that he was “dissatisfied and baffled”, echoing the views of the sport’s world governing body, which called the decision “an aberration”.
“I want to know the reasons why the IOC removed wrestling,” he said, adding later at a news conference: “The final verdict has yet to be made,” he later told a news conference. “It will depend on our efforts and actions hereafter.”
Wrestling will remain on the programme for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro but faces a fight against seven other sports for inclusion at the Games four years later. A final decision is to be made when all IOC members meet in September.
Members are seen as unlikely to vote against the executive board, however, raising the prospect that one of the few sports that survived from the original Olympics in ancient Greece into the modern era will disappear.
Wrestling first appeared in 708 BC and has only ever been left out of the Olympic programme once before in 1900.
The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) has vowed to fight the decision, while Russia—like Turkey, another powerhouse in the sport—has also said it hoped the IOC would backtrack.
Wrestlers themselves were dismayed, with Saori Yoshida, Japan’s undisputed wrestling queen who has won a record 13 straight Olympic and world championship gold medals over 10 years, saying: “I am so devastated that I don’t know what to do.”
Yoshida, a 55kg-class freestyle wrestler who last year received the government’s “People’s Honour Award” for her achievements, is the face of Tokyo’s campaign for the right to host the 2020 Games.
Meanwhile in India, leading wrestler Sushil Kumar, who won a bronze in Beijing and a silver in London last year, said: “I still can’t get over the news that we won’t be at the Olympics.
“All sportsmen look towards the Olympics as the pinnacle of excellence, everyone wants to take part in them. Now what do we do? Give up wrestling? I hope the IOC will reconsider this decision.”
An online petition at change.org entitled “The International Olympic Committee: Save Wrestling as an Olympic sport #SaveOlympicWrestling” has also been mounted, urging the US Senate to take up the matter.
By Wednesday morning, it had nearly 19,000 signatures.
On Twitter, one user, @WrestlersLoveUs, wrote: “Ancient Olympic wrestlers used to sometimes fight to the death. IOC better understand we’re ready to do that again. #SaveOlympicWrestling.”