With the IOC’s decision to drop wrestling from the Summer Olympics following the 2016 Games, a single spot is up for grabs in the 2020 schedule.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that wresting could return for those Games. It’s vying with an eclectic group of seven other sports.
The International Olympic Committee executive board is scheduled to meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for inclusion. A final vote is expected at the IOC’s general assembly in September, in Buenos Aires.
Until that decision, lobbying and hustling can be expected as sports federations try to convince IOC officials their sports can bring in the most viewers and sponsorship dollars. Other criteria includes ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation.
The good news, at least if you’re a wrestling fan, is several of the contenders are so obscure they require a bit of explanation.
Here’s a look at the contenders:
Here’s what Wushu really has going for it: the potential to draw in millions of viewers from Asia. Wushu is a full-contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts composed of two disciplines: taolu, which involves choreographed, stylized movements, and sanda, which looks like kickboxing or Muay Thai, but includes more grappling techniques. The sport’s first world championship was held in 1991. Last September, Canada won five medals (one gold) at the junior world championships.
The World Squash Federation has unleashed a stirring video on YouTube to make its case for Olympic inclusion. Back the Bid 2020 shows squash at its best: telegenic athletes; lunging, miraculous saves; and the enticing idea the sport could be played in a futuristic glass cube. Malaysia’s Nicole David, six-time world champion, says: “Why do I think squash deserves its chance? It’s played in every corner of the globe.”
These sports were voted off the Olympic program in 2005, and were last played at the 2006 Beijing games. Now, they have merged into a single international federation in a joint bid to return. The key may be convincing Major League Baseball to allow professional players to lend their star power to the Games – which is unlikely, even though professional leagues in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia have reportedly backed the bid. Softball had been in the Olympics since 1996, and baseball since 1992.
In case you were wondering, rollerblades did not go extinct after 1999. Roller sports is a racing discipline similar to ice speed skating, but on rollerblades. Athletes race on different surfaces, including roads and indoor tracks. The speed races go to various distances and have different formats, including time trials, sprints and elimination races. Athletes may be disqualified for blocking, pushing, holding, or hindering another skater. There is also an artistic event – known as roller figure skating, which isn’t being considered for Olympic inclusion.
You know this one if you’ve ever been to a climbing gym. Sport climbing involves climbing anchors or bolts permanently installed into rock faces or artificial climbing walls to secure ropes and harnesses. Patrick Edlinger, a charismatic French rock climber who helped popularize competitive sport climbing in the 1980s, called it “a form of yoga.”
Wakeboarding is the cool kid’s alternative to water skiing: Strap on a board that’s shorter and wider than a snowboard, add a tow rope and let a motorboat drag you around. The sport was born in the late 1980s, and got serious when the first world championships were held in 2000. Tricks range from skateboard-inspired grabs and spins to flips and soaring jumps. The introduction of obstacles such as sliders, funboxes, kickers and flat bars has added another dimension. Snowboarding added a dash of the X Games to the Winter Games, so this could be the summer equivalent.
Karate officials missed two previous applications for the Olympics in 2005 and 2009. If the third time is to be a charm, they’ll have to convince the IOC there’s room for one more martial art in the Olympic schedule, which includes judo (introduced in 1967) and tae kwon do (2000).
Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Enough said.