For the last two days, I’ve been trying to figure out why Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign. After all, Popes don’t retire; they die. Then I had an epiphany while reading a New York Times article about the 2020 Olympic Games. The Catholic Church and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) spent the last century as two of the last remaining arbiters of tradition left in the world. But now that the IOC has pissed tradition down the drain with it’s announcement that wrestling will no longer be an Olympic sport beginning in 2020, Benedict XVI has to be thinking “Shit man, I’ve got to get out of this ‘tradition’ business while the getting is good.”
Wrestling, one of the most ancient and traditional Olympic sports, was dropped from the Summer Games in a stunning and widely criticized decision Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee.
If you stop and think about it, you realize that the Catholic Church has been under tons of pressure to “become more in tune with modern society.”
That sentiment couldn’t be more fucked up.
You may not like reading this, but the purpose of the Catholic Church; in fact the purpose of organized religion as a whole since it’s invention was to be an instrument of social control. We had priests long before we had kings to make laws and cops to enforce them, which is exactly why the first person in the history of the planet who said “No, you can’t do that” was some sort of cleric. In other words, it is the purpose of the Catholic Church to do exactly the opposite of “being in tune with modern society;” somebody has to be the one to defend the traditions against the ebb and flow of societal whims.
This is the part where you are asking yourself “what the hell does this have to do with the Olympics?” The whole point of the Olympics is the preservation and furthering of the most ancient traditions of sporting competition, which makes the IOC the organization charged with accomplishing that. So, when the IOC shit-cans a sport that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, it is just like if the Catholic Church dumped one of the Sacraments. In other words, the IOC is under exactly the same pressure as the Church to ”become more in tune with modern society.”
That sentiment still couldn’t be more fucked up.
Regardless of what you think of either the Catholic Church or the IOC, there’s really no denying they share this problem. What differs is how they both handle it. In any large organization, there are two forces which come into play regarding any major decision: practicality and politics. The Church’s approach is simply to ignore both of those forces and stonewall everything. You don’t have to like it, but you also can’t ignore the fact they have avoided getting into a mess like the IOC has.
To be honest, I actually understand the practical end of what the IOC is doing here. Unlike the Church, the IOC is actually a business disguised as a governing body in the world of sport. Being in the world of sport, the IOC has a commodity to sell, which happens to be the broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games themselves and the ancillary revenue streams that come along with it (licensing, merchandising, etc…) Naturally, the minute you introduce television and money, you must have sensitivity to what is popular, because popularity drives revenue. The catch is that determining what is popular is where politics comes into play. That’s where the IOC really fucked this up.
The decision to drop wrestling was made by secret ballot by the committee’s 15-member executive board at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The exact vote and the reasons for the decision were not given in detail.
The keys to this “secret Ballot” and “reasons…were not given.” That means they a) knew what they were going to do before they ever held a vote and b) knew they were going to take a lot of shit for it. In fact, part of the “modern society” with which they are trying to curry favor is as we speak roasting the IOC via the Twitter hashtag #SaveOlympicWrestling. That also means that there is now way the IOC can pretend they don’t understand the politics of this matter.
In recent years the IOC has expressed concern about the size of the Summer Games and wanted to cap the number of athletes at about 10,500. It has also said it wants to enhance its modernity by drawing younger viewers among the international television audience. On Tuesday, the Olympic committee said in a statement that it wanted to ensure that it remained “relevant to sports fans of all generations.”
Here it comes. That paragraph is the set-up for giving us the rationale that wrestling simply isn’t popular. But that rationale has a couple of major flaws, as we will see shortly.
Olympic-style wrestling, with its amateur roots and absence of visibility except during the Games, lacks superstars with widespread international acclaim like Lionel Messi in soccer, Kobe Bryant in basketball and Tiger Woods in golf. And the popularity of Olympic-style wrestling in the United States is far surpassed by the staged bombast of professional wrestling.
Bullshit Call #1 – The countries where soccer is the boss of major league professional sports don’t give a shit about Olympic soccer. none of the heavy-duty European and South American stars (like Messi) were anywhere near London last August. That’s why the Olympic gold medal in men’s soccer was won by Mexico, a country where baseball is the most popular sport. Basketball is looking to follow the soccer model, meaning that that it’s own World Cup-style tournament would be the sports crowning international competition, leaving the Olympics to be a venue for under-21/developmental teams, largely because FIBA is unhappy with the IOC current limit of 12 teams in the Olympic tournament. Adn golf won’t even be an Olympic sport until 2016.
Sports like snowboarding have been added to the Winter Games to broaden the audience. Golf and rugby will be added to the 2016 Rio Games. Among the sports that wrestling must compete with for future inclusion are climbing, rollerblading and wakeboarding.
The committee might also have grown frustrated that Greco-Roman wrestling did not include women, experts said. Women began participating in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Athens Games.
Politics also play an inevitable role in the workings of the International Olympic Committee. Among the sports surviving Tuesday’s vote was modern pentathlon, also threatened and less popular internationally than wrestling. But modern pentathlon, a five-event sport that includes shooting, horseback riding and running, was invented by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Games. And it is supported by Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., son of the former Olympic committee president and a member of its board.
While it is true the Winter Olympics have gone all “X Games” in the hopes of attracting a bunch of Mountain Dew-chugging bong-heads, it is also not the reason why wrestling got choked out. That “touchy-feely” bullshit about “doesn’t include women” is also crap. Other than figure skating, beach volleyball, and gymnastics, women’s sports simply do not draw an audience. The big problem wrestling had is that it didn’t have anybody in the room when the secret ballot happened who was willing to defend it. Without Googling it, you can’t tell me the five events that make up Modern Pentathlon, and the above paragraph is spotting you three of them.
Here’s what it boils down to. The IOC has abandoned everything it should be standing for, and it did so because it caved in to what it thinks is popular opinion. Given all the shit going on in the Catholic Church today, Benedict XVI looked in the mirror and realized he’s facing the exact same quandry as the IOC; cave to pressure or be the rock that stands defiantly for tradition in the face of “popularity.”
The fact that he chose to be the first Pope in 600 years to tap out ought to tell you something.