Wrestling is a historical heavyweight among Olympic sports, and has a proud tradition in Ohio. From youth wrestling camps and high school meets, to NCAA tournaments, Ohio athletes have learned the strength, discipline, and focus that allow grapplers to succeed both on the mat and in life. The sport is accessible to anyone, regardless of their financial circumstances. But recently, the International Olympic Committee issued a misguided decision to eliminate wrestling from the Olympics beginning in 2020.
Citing “an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—the organization that controls the Olympics—voted to eliminate wrestling entirely after the 2016 games. Yet, the organization decided to keep many events that have a higher cost barrier to entry and less fan support.
I’m not against some of the other sports that the IOC decided to keep, but I want to ensure that no one tries to squeeze middle-class kids out of a chance to compete on the international stage—especially in a sport that was part of the original Olympics and is the third-most successful sport for the U.S. in the Summer Games.
That’s why I recently introduced a Senate Resolution opposing the elimination of wrestling from the Olympics. My former colleague, and Wrestling Hall of Fame Member, Jim Jordan (R-OH) has introduced a similar resolution in the House. On behalf of thousands of high school students and two 2012 Olympians with Ohio connections, we are asking the IOC to reconsider eradicating one of the original Olympic sports.
Wrestling has been a sport longer than the IOC has been in existence. In addition to being practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, our nation has a long history with wrestling. President Abraham Lincoln and two Ohio-born Presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and William Howard Taft, were wrestlers.
My good friend and colleague, the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000. At the time, he explained that, “Wrestling has always been a big thing for me. I’ve had a love affair with the sport for most of my life. It helped me as a kid, I got in some trouble, then I found a sport I was good at, and that transferred to better things in other areas.” Like Senator Wellstone, the same is true for more than Ohio’s 11,000 high school wrestlers and students at 17 Ohio universities with NCCA programs—from Kent State University to the College of Mount Saint Joseph.
Wrestling is accessible to athletes from all economic backgrounds and from all cultures, unlike some of the sports protected in the IOC’s decision. And wrestling has a proud tradition in our state, in our country, and around the world.
The IOC should not ratify this preliminary decision by its executive board. By retaining wrestling, the IOC will remain respectful of tradition and remain relevant for all athletes and communities around the world.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.