ANKARA— Despite being a sports pioneer, wrestling struggles to win over fans after nearly losing its place in the 2013 Olympics when the International Olympic Committee voted to remove it from the Games program, starting 2020.
The decision wreaked havoc. The president of the sport’s governing body, FILA (now United World Wrestling), resigned after a vote of no confidence. Two decorated fighters returned their medals, while one even went on a hunger strike.
One of the reasons for the elimination was believed to be the lack of star athletes in the sport, although it is very popular in some countries such as Iran, the United States and host Japan.
The IOC had cited low ticket sales, low popularity, low TV ratings, and a lack of oversight and diversity, as pageants for women were only added in 2004.
In 2013, the IOC also noted that the international wrestling federation had no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no female commissions, and no ethical rules for technical or medical officials on its executive board.
Following leadership changes and program revisions for 2016, including rule changes and additional women’s competitions, wrestling successfully campaigned for readmission to the Olympics.
Even so, its future remains uncertain after the next Games in 2024.
Wrestling dates back to cave drawings more than 15,000 years old and is considered one of the oldest sports, believed to have been practiced since the dawn of civilization.
Greco-Roman wrestling was the first fighting style included in the Games, with freestyle added in 1904.
The fighters engage in intense battles filled with fast and powerful movements. The Russian Federation (formerly USSR) has won the most medals overall, followed by major nations such as the United States, Japan, Cuba, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey.
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