New Delhi: Wrestling, the sport that got India two of its six Olympic medals at the 2012 Games, may not feature in the 2020 Olympics. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed Tuesday on the 25 core sports for the 2020 Games, and left out wrestling.
The sport will now join the seven shortlisted disciplines that include baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu that will compete for the one spot freed up. The board looked at 30 different aspects, including ticket sales and worldwide popularity for a number of sports—modern pentathlon, taekwondo, and wrestling were seen to be the most “at risk”. Wrestling lost out in the final count.
The final decision on this will be taken at the 125th IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in September. At the session, international sports bodies and national Olympic associations will make presentations for their sport of choice to be included. Wrestling’s chances are not good. Baseball/softball, the last sport to be dropped from the Olympics back in 2008, is the favourite to make a comeback. In 2010, golf and rugby sevens were inducted for the 2016 and 2020 Games (but are not part of the 25 core sports). Wrestling was part of the first ever modern Olympics in 1896, and has been part of the programme consistently since 1904.
Wrestler Sushil Kumar, the only athlete from India who has won two Olympic medals (bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012) in an individual sport, said the effects of the decision will be felt across the wrestling community in India.
“I am very, very sad,” Kumar said. “This is a big blow. Not just for me, but also for all the young, talented wrestlers who now think only of bringing home Olympic medals.”
Wrestling has been one of India’s strongest disciplines at the Olympics—the country’s first individual medal came in 1952, when K.D. Jadhav won bronze in freestyle wrestling.
“Wrestling is everything for thousands of people in India,” said Indian wrestling team coach Yashvir Singh. “It is a sport that has given so much to the country. Along with hockey, it’s India’s No. 1 Olympic sport.”
In 2008, Sushil Kumar’s medal reenergized the sport, and funds poured in for infrastructure and training. For the 2012 Olympics, wrestlers received Rs.16 crore for training from the sports ministry, among the most spent per athlete. Annually, roughly Rs.14 crore is spent on the Indian wrestling team, according to Wrestling Federation of India secretary general Raj Singh.
“That funding will be cut to less than half,” Raj Singh said. “But we will continue to get money for Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.”
Yashvir Singh said that for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wrestling was in line to be the most well-funded sport in India. Now he is not so sure.
Geeta Phogat, who in 2012 became the first woman wrestler from India to qualify for the Olympics, was equally disappointed. “Wrestling means so much to women,” she said. “For every woman wrestler, the sport was about empowerment. I had just begun, I thought I would get more chances. Now 2016 might be the only one.”
Jagdish Kaliraman, former champion wrestler and now the owner and coach of the Kaliraman Akhada in Delhi, where women were first trained in the sport, is hopeful that wrestling will make its way back in.
“It has an incredible history at the Olympics, going back to the ancient games in Greece,” he said. “And there are lots of countries around the world where it is an extremely important sport. I think there will be a very strong appeal to put it back on the Olympic list.”
But if that does not come to pass, Indian wrestling will be badly affected, he said. “Wrestlers here had just started dreaming. All those dreams will be wiped out.”