BY ANTHONY O’REILLY
The sport of wrestling is now fighting for its life.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted the sport, which was part of the inaugural 1896 Olympics held in Athens, Greece, off the 2020 games program.
Richard Zbytniewski, a wrestling coach at MS 72 Count Basie in Jamaica, said he couldn’t understand the decision made by the IOC because wrestling has been a part of the Olympics since the beginning.
“If you’re going to get rid of one of the oldest sports then you’re losing the identity of the Olympics,” he said.
Robert Anspach, head coach of wrestling at Hofstra University, said he was shocked when he learned the news and at first thought it was a joke.
“I didn’t even know it was up for discussion,” he said.
Anspach argued with one of the reasons the IOC gave for voting wrestling off, low ratings.
“If you’re going to put it on at 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon of course nobody’s going to be to watch it,” he said.
Anspach said that despite the decreasing ratings, there seems to be a growing support for wrestling, citing growing attendance at Hofstra’s wrestling events.
Zbytniewski said when he was a wrestler in college he’d use the Olympics for motivation.
“The Olympics were inspiring me to do better,” he said, adding that the event does the same for the students he coaches at the middle school.
Anspach said that the Olympics may not be the only goal that all wrestlers look to, but that it is one of the main ones.
“It’s the dream and aspiration of some of these guys,” Anspach said of his wrestlers.
Anspach and Zbytniewski also said that wrestling should stay in the Olympics because it is, in their opinion, the ultimate sport.
“It’s something that you’re born with, it’s instinctual,” Anspach said. “It’s the only sport that’s opened to everybody. There’s a weight class for everyone. You don’t see a short basketball player. But in wrestling there’s a division for everyone.”
“There are sports on that list that I really wouldn’t even consider to be a sport,” Zbytniewski echoed. “They don’t take any skill to do. Wrestling is a highly skilled sport that you need to train hard for in order to get good at.”
Anspach, when asked if there was any official word on what would happen in the wrestling community, said everything is still up in the air.
“People are asking us ‘what’s going to happen?’” he said. “We don’t know. It’s not official yet that it’s going to happen and I really hope they overturn the decision.”
Wrestling still has a fighting chance to be included in the 2020 games, but has to apply for inclusion along with six other sports: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu (Chinese martial arts).
Anspach said this could be a lesson for the wrestling community, saying those in charge need to be more active in promoting their sport.
“We need to stop being reactionary and start being more proactive,” he said. “It might be too late to stop this, but now we need to figure out how we prevent this from happening again.”