The news felt like a body slam to Maple Ridge Secondary wrestling coach Bill McCrae.
McCrae was shocked to learn that wrestling will not be included among the core sports listed for the 2020 Olympic Games.
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee made the decision Feb. 12.
Wrestling, governed by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), will now join seven shortlisted sports – baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu – vying for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program as an additional sport.
“It’s straight out of the blue, it’s very frustrating, and it’s ridiculous if you think about it,” said McCrae, who has coached wrestling for the past 23 years and began competing in 1975 as a Grade 9 in Timmins, Ont. “It’s man’s oldest sport; it’s non-prejudicial regarding size. You don’t have to be a seven-foot freak to be able to dominate in the sport. You just have to be a good athlete with a big heart.”
As well, wrestling doesn’t discriminate when it comes to socio-economics, McCrae added.
“The poorest kids can wrestle,” he said.
McCrae described wrestling’s exclusion as a “wake-up call” to the sport’s governing body.
“I just don’t understand the rationale,” McCrae said. “The only thing I can think of is that poor display that was put on in London. Maybe this is a heads up to FILA that they have to do something to do something about the rules. This whole passive wrestling doesn’t work. And to pick a ball out of a hat to win a bronze medal, it’s really silly.”
Wrestling will still be part of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and McCrae believes he has a couple of Olympic prospects under his guidance at MRSS.
They include Grade 9 Cam Hicks, the 2012 provincial champion in the 38-kg-weight class and last year’s B.C. gold-medalist Payten Smith (90 kg), who hasn’t had a point scored against her in two years.
McCrae’s daughter Ciara, a Grade 10 student at Port Moody Secondary, won the B.C. title in her 51 kg weight class in 2012.
Hicks, who started wrestling in Grade 6, believes the IOC got it wrong.
“It belongs,” he said. “It’s an original sport, one of the original five and it’s one of the hardest, most challenging sports in the world.”
Fellow MRSS Grade 9 wrestler Hayden Tupper said he was “shocked” by the news.
“It’s an Olympic sport, usually,” he said, adding, “People don’t realize how hard it is until they try it.”
The judgment must be ratified by the entire IOC in September.
McCrae holds out hope wrestling will be part of the 2020 program.
“I think it’s a heads-up to FILA to change the rules to make the sport more exciting,” he said. “Right now, there are no stall warnings, which means you can sit on your heels, and wait for one blast opportunity so most matches are won 1-0.”
In the wake of last week’s ruling, Raphael Martinetti stepped down as president of the international wrestling federation.
At the political level, Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton contacted McCrae for his input on the situation.
“I was happy he took the time and effort to phone me up and ask me my opinion,” McCrae said.
“It’s an important program for different schools, locally,” Dalton told the TIMES.
“It’s also important for the Indo-Canadian community, because wrestling is a big sport in India. In some ways it’s representing the constituents in the province. As far as the IOC, if there is a worldwide outcry, it helps. [Mine is] just another voice.”
Speaking in legislature last week, Dalton voiced his displeasure about the IOC decision.
“Arm drags, bear hugs, headlocks, gut wrenches – Mr. Speaker, although there is the occasional verbal spar in this chamber, I anticipate decorum will prevail and members won’t be engaging in these techniques anytime soon during question period,” he said.
But for 2,600 male and female athletes, coaches, and officials of the British Columbia Wrestling Association, these moves are a way of life and fun, Dalton added.
Dalton noted that Maple Ridge and Westview secondary schools are part of the BC Schools Wrestling Association.
Dalton told fellow MLAs that amateur wrestling has a “rich tradition” in B.C. with a number of the top competitors competing at the international and Olympic level.
He cited 1984 Olympic silver medalist Bob Molle and Hazelton, B.C.’s Carol Huynh, who became the first Canadian freestyle female wrestler to win Olympic gold when she achieved the feat in London last summer, as examples.
He also spoke about Daniel Igali, who took home gold from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
“Many of us will remember him [Igali] dancing around the Canadian flag and kissing it in his victory,” Dalton said.
Dalton said he got to know many of these athletes while working “in the bowels of the equipment room of the SFU gym while doing my studies.”
The MLA described amateur wrestling as an ancient, international sport that has been part of the Olympics since its modern-day inception. He said the sport has relished, especially among athletes in B.C.’s Indo-Canadian community.
“It has therefore come as a shock world-wide that the IOC has recommended not to include wrestling at the 2020 Olympics,” Dalton said. “Wrestling is a sport that has stood the test of time and it will doubtless stand through this test, also.”