WRESTLING OUT OF OLYMPICS

By Madhu Kshirsagar

25 Feb 2013photo-2

The International Olympic Committee has decided to drop Wrestling as an Olympic sport from the year 2020.  Yes, you heard it right.

Wrestling, which is one of only a handful of sports to have survived from the inaugural Olympics in 1896, will now compete with seven other new sports – including karate, baseball and softball, wushu (whatever that is), roller sports, wakeboarding(?) and sport climbing (huh!) – for one remaining spot at the 2020 Games.

The Committee members in their collective wisdom have decided that wrestling is not popular enough – or at least they did not believe it to be so based on some graphs and numbers that the computer might have spit out.

Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year’s London Olympics. Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games.

The problem with sports like wrestling are that they are not high profile sports and do not get media coverage in many countries including Australia – generally watching Olympics on Australian TV is like watching a swimming carnival anyway.  But what is baffling is that America is a strong contender in wrestling along with countries such as India, Russia, Germany, Korea etc.  Surely they will be able to rattle the cage and attract attention to this folly with key members of the IOC.

At the risk of many disagreeing, I have to say why should there be so many medals in swimming for instance?  There are 34 gold medals in swimming and 102 in total including silver and bronze. In the next Olympics they might come up with a medal for scratching yourself under water. Surely they can save other exotic sports from other countries and rationalising on the number of medals in sports that are played and practiced mostly in rich countries. Personally, I would rather watch wrestling than swimming. And synchronised swimming? Please!

Now they want to sack wrestling because it is not popular in developed countries and therefore they are not making money. Unfortunately Olympics, like everything else these days is a question of whether things stack up fiscally. I understand that. But surely that should not be the only criteria! If so we can never get to appreciate sports such as wrestling, martial arts or even kabaddi.

I believe field hockey came very close to being eliminated from 2020 Olympics.  That would have been a tragedy. They have almost killed field hockey as a sport anyway with the abolition of off-side rule and introduction of synthetic turfs.  It has become a sport of power and long hits compared to a time when short passes and delightful stick work used to be in vogue.  It used to be exhilarating to watch players use skill and weave their way past opponents casting a magical web of deception. Nowadays you see people hitting the ball from one end to another with power and precision and somehow it has robbed the charm of the old hockey.

Anyway, it has been a wake-up call for all hockey administrators and they have to fight fiercely in the future to keep it in the Olympic fold.

Be that as it may, I hope IOC comes to its senses soon enough to reverse the decision and reinstate wrestling.  Otherwise, it would be tragedy.

AUSSIE SPORTS HAVE HEADS IN THE SAND

By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

25 Feb 2013

Illegal drugs are widespread throughout Australian sport and are being facilitated by sports scientists, high-level coaches and sports staff, a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission has found.

ACC has also found evidence of personal relationships between professional athletes and criminal identities and groups that may have resulted in match-fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets.

The average Australian may not realise this, but Australian sports is currently a laughing stock in the world of sports. Its reputation has been badly damaged and the concerned authorities have to act swiftly to punish the guilty and steer sports in the right direction in future. They have to do the right thing and also be seen to be doing the right thing. They have to do it to at least keep the next generation of athletes clean and also bring integrity to a corrupt and broken system. They also owe it to the impressionable children of this country who will be the next avid sports fans of the future. Is this beyond the average football clubs and other sports administrators of the country? Time will tell.

Australian sports for a long time have bent the rules and have the motto of ‘win at all costs’. While used on the field in a competitive sense it is quite laudable – but when the win is achieved by hook or by crook then it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. History is littered with umpteen examples of Aussie sporting culture leading to unsporting behaviour – from the infamous underarm ball to 2008 Sydney Test.  Such an extreme need for winning at any cost drove Lance Armstrong, and his teammates to systematically abuse the system by doping for many years. And Ian Thorpe for a long time has been the subject of criticism that his exploits have been fuelled by performance enhancing drugs. There are also rumours that such drugs are widely used in Australian swimming.

Aussie rules football is a sport that not many in the world would care about and there are obvious reasons why it can never be a premiere world sport.  But the Aussies – at least some parts of Australia – live and breathe this manic free-for-all brawl; anything goes as far as one can kick between the poles.  But it is fast and furious and requires a lot of strength and stamina for the athletes who participate.

Such sports which require superhuman brawns are catalysts for substance abuse. These football codes seem to have a very poor moral compass – forever enmeshed with drugs of various kinds, sexual misdemeanours, and penalties for bad behaviour of the many athletes involved.  The football administrations are also very lenient towards such incidents and try very hard to brush everything under the carpet. Three strike policy in dealing with drug usage in Aussie rules is a mindboggling rule which is laughable in this day and age. What is the chance of a drug cheat being caught three times publicly when the sports administrators are actively sweeping such things under the carpet?

On top of all this the massive machinery of endless commentators in all forms of the media and sports administrators make it a thriving web of vested interest all round. Today the Melbourne football club was found not guilty of tanking despite the whole footy fraternity knowing otherwise. But the manager and the coach have been suspended and the Club has been fined $500k – reasonable people have been left speechless and fuming at the action – what is the penalty for if they have been found to be not guilty? They will soon need a high speed electric broom for all the sweeping under the carpet that’s been happening – the manual one is just not fast enough. AFL will struggle with integrity in footy as they seem to live in a cocoon and seem to have their heads well and truly buried in the sand.

And then there is match-fixing and association with criminal activities. Match fixing or at least spot fixing has been going on in Aussie cricket for a long time – remember Lillee & Marsh betting scandal – when they bet against their own team in which they were key members? – and more recently with Mark Waugh and Shane Warne which the ACB tried to brush under the carpet – the broom’s indeed been working overtime all these years!

It is astounding that such evidence based accusation has been levelled against sports in Australia by investigative authorities. Can one expect that sporting bodies will react positively and punish the guilty and try to eradicate drugs and criminal elements that have infiltrated the sport? One can only hope! Or will they just batten down the hatches and hope the storm will blow over?  I have a feeling that months will roll by, with all and sundry providing lip service, and things will be forgotten eventually. An odd someone will be nominated as the scapegoat, like Joe-the-cameraman, and some wrists would be slapped. Nudge, Nudge! Wink, Wink! And everything will be back to normal. Drugs? What drugs? Match fixing? Come on! Such a long time ago, let’s move on.  OK, now can we look at the footy tipping for next week?

If the way they have handled the question of tanking in AFL is any indication, then Australian sports integrity has no hope in hell.