Whew. That was close.
After the International Olympic Committee decided this past winter to eliminate wrestling from its slate, many fans worried about what the makeup of the 2020 Games would be, stressing over what sports they would be watching at the expense of others. But fortunately, Sunday's IOC vote ended all the anxiety. After listening to the proposals and reviewing the cases, the IOC delivered the verdict so many sports fans welcomed around the world.
Squash will NOT be part of the Olympics.
And yes, there was even better news as well. After being dropped seven months earlier, wrestling was voted back into the Olympics, beating out the other two bids -- squash and baseball/softball.
This is as it should be. There are other sports that should be in the Olympics (more on baseball and softball later) but wrestling MUST be in the Olympics. It is as much a part of the Olympics as gold medals, national anthems and ridiculous mascots.
Wrestling is perhaps the oldest of all sports, dating back to the Bible (Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord, who was almost as powerful an opponent as Alexander Karelin). It was part of the ancient Olympics. It has been part of the modern Olympics, with the exception of 1900 (though those 1900 Games somehow found room for something called Basque pelota).
Wrestling also is among the most global of sports. People wrestle all over the world, in countries rich and poor. There were wrestlers from 71 countries at the 2012 Olympics, with medal winners from 29 nations, including Mongolia, North Korea, Estonia and Colombia.
Men wrestle. Women wrestle. It is such a universal sport that even the United States, Russia and Iran united to fight for its inclusion. When you can get those three countries to agree on anything, it's probably best to listen.
Wrestling's international body, FILA, instituted some changes to the sport (including two more weight classes for women), but I don't really see where much change was necessary. The beauty of wrestling is its simplicity. This isn't cricket with its perplexing rules. It is just two wrestlers going head to head, each striving to pin the other. It is also affordable. You don't need expensive equipment. You don't need a billion-dollar stadium with luxury suites. You just need a mat, a scale and two opponents.
So I am glad wrestling is back. The problem is it never should have gone away. But because the IOC did kick it out one moment, then quickly included it in the crowded ring for readmission, two other deserving sports were hosed. Baseball and softball, last played in the 2008 Olympics, received 24 votes compared to wrestling's 49. Their chances for reinstatement basically ended when wrestling became an opponent.
"We knew it would be a stretch and that we had our work cut out for us,'' softball gold medalist Jennie Finch said. "I'm stoked for wrestling. I'm happy for them to be back and huge congratulations for the being back where they belong and I'm hoping we'll be back where we belong as well. I think there is room for both.''
She's right. There is room for both. Contrary to the IOC's view, baseball is very much an international sport. Not only is it the U.S. national pastime, it is the most popular sport of the newly named 2020 Olympics host country, Japan. It is immensely popular in North American, South American and Asian countries. This season there have been major leaguers from Brazil, Australia, Germany, Korea, Italy, Japan, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Taiwan and Mexico. There are minor league prospects from Africa and India.
Granted, baseball's owners and players are not willing to halt the season to allow major leaguers in the Olympics. But with its 23-under age limit, soccer doesn't let most of its biggest stars play in the Olympics, either. Besides, back when the Olympics were at their peak in popularity, professionals didn't compete in them, anyway. Why is that so important now? Why isn't it enough to have future stars (such as Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish and Hyun-jin Ryu, all of whom pitched in the 2008 Games)?
At least baseball has its popular leagues here and abroad, along with the World Series and the World Baseball Classic. Softball does not. It is a great and very popular sport for women, but after losing its Olympic status, there is no adequate substitute.
"I'm devastated,'' Finch said. "I'm brokenhearted. But at the same time we need to keep moving forward and supporting it and growing our game and keep fighting the fight.''
This is the frustrating part of Sunday's vote. The original point of having a vote was to allow another sport into the Olympics, not to briefly kick one out in February and then let it right back in seven months later. This pretty much defeated the whole point of voting to add another sport. The IOC didn't add another sport, it just forced wrestling to make some changes, which I suspect was its plan all along.
As Canadian IOC member Dick Pound put it, "We're back to where we started. There's been no new sport added to the program."
This needs to be addressed. The IOC needs to hold another session soon to add another sport. (Preferably, that would be the dual baseball/softball bid.) Then, because the Olympics have become overcrowded and overwhelming, the IOC can decide what sport to kick out.
I suggest the modern pentathlon (an expensive sport almost no one competes in), equestrian (even more expensive) and sailing (a sport so expensive it is essentially for only the one percent).
Enough already. The Olympics are the greatest sporting competition in the world. It's time to make sure all the world's most popular sports are included rather than the sports so expensive and elite that only IOC members can participate in them.
Finch says that she is hopeful that there could be another review of Olympic sports in five months and that baseball/softball could be added then, especially with the two sports being so popular in Japan and Tokyo getting the 2020 bid. "We'll keep our hopes up and keep working hard and I'll keep doing everything I can to help.''
Wrestling belongs in the Olympics, but no extended wrestling is necessary over the other deserving sports. Just let baseball and softball play, too.