Sports

Loss of ‘sacred sport’ from Games stuns local wrestlers

Salar Akbari (bottom) from Frank Hurt Secondary battles Dacious Richardson from Guildford Park Secondary in the 63-kilogram category during the 10th annual Surrey Slamfest wrestling tournament at Guildford Park Thursday afternoon.  - Evan Seal / The Leader
Salar Akbari (bottom) from Frank Hurt Secondary battles Dacious Richardson from Guildford Park Secondary in the 63-kilogram category during the 10th annual Surrey Slamfest wrestling tournament at Guildford Park Thursday afternoon.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

The likelihood of their sport no longer being part of the Summer Olympic Games leaves one big question hanging in the local wrestling community.

Why?

“I think it’s politics, it has to be,” said Mark McRae (pictured below), a former high school wrestler and a current coach with Guildford Park Secondary. “I don’t think anyone with a straight face can tell you (wrestling) shouldn’t be in the Olympics. It is one of the original sports in the Olympic movement, it’s a sacred sport.”

The executive committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stunned the sports world earlier this month, voting to omit wrestling from the list of sports to be part of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The move must still be ratified by the IOC membership, but many see that as a foregone conclusion.

Wrestling has been a part of the modern Olympics since 1904, and was one of the original sports in the ancient Olympic Games in Greece going back to 700 BC.

Athletes, Mark McRaeofficials and administrators are still wondering why a sport that was represented by 40 countries at last summer’s Olympics in London is now being excluded.

“I was shocked, speechless,” said Jaskarn Ranu, a Grade 12 wrestler from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary. “I woke up one day and went downstairs, and the first thing my mom told me was wrestling is out of the Olympics.

“They shouldn’t do that. Wrestling was where the Olympics started. Taking out wrestling is like taking out the 100-metre sprint.”

Daniel Igali, a Surrey resident when he won the gold medal for wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Australia, was also critical of the IOC executive committee’s decision.

“For me, the question is not why wrestling should not be axed from the 2020 Olympic roster,” he said in a statement. “Rather, it should be about how many other sports in the world are as popular, have the same reach in virtually every nation, and are as accessible as wrestling.”

What is certain is that its exclusion will threaten the sport domestically, both in terms of participation and funding.

“The Own the Podium program funds Olympic sports, and that money comes from the government,” said McRae. “Now you won’t even have it as a (Olympic) sport, so the money will dry up.

“And the only time any of our athletes get any recognition is at the Olympics.”

McRae said the “Olympic dream” is what inspires many wrestlers to train for competition in what is very much an amateur sport at all levels.

Ranu was questioning his future in the sport just prior to Thursday’s Slamfest tournament at Guildford Park Secondary, where he won the gold medal in the 74-kilogram class.

“I can name you 25 other sports that could be taken out,” he said. “People like me are dreaming about 2020. Now, I don’t want to work out anymore, I don’t want to train. In my family, wrestling is a tradition. But knowing it’s not going to be there in 2020, you don’t see any point.

“You have the world championships, but the Olympics are the Olympics. And without 2020, I don’t see the point anymore.”

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