Wrestling loses slots at 2020 Olympics

Photo/Tony Rotundo,

While the wrestling community was immersed in the action at this past weekend's World Team Trials in Lincoln, Neb., the sport took a hit at the hands of the International Olympic Committee.

Lost amid the coverage of the IOC's announcement late Friday of new sports being added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics -- including 3-on-3 basketball and BMX freestyle cycling -- some traditional Olympic sports learned they will have fewer athletes competing at the Summer Games in three years.

Wrestling is among those sports, with 56 fewer places available for competitors in Tokyo than at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Wrestling isn't the only sport to be affected. A total of 285 athlete places will be lost compared to last summer's Olympics, with track and field losing 105 spots, weightlifting giving up 64 slots, sailing and shooting will each lose 30 and swimming will have 22 fewer.

Competitive opportunities for wrestlers in 2020

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there will be a total of 288 slots for wrestlers in a total of 18 competitions -- six in men's freestyle, six in women's freestyle, and six in Greco-Roman. This translates to 16 wrestlers per weight class. To compare to the 2016 Rio Olympics... there were 18 competitions, but a total of 344 wrestlers at last year's Games, for a loss of 56 available slots comparing 2020 vs. 2016.

The six Olympic men's freestyle weight classes are 57 kilograms/125.4 pounds; 65 kilograms/143 pounds; 74 kilograms/163 pounds; 86 kilograms/183 pounds; 97 kilograms/213 pounds; and 125 kilograms/275 pounds.

The six weight classes for women's freestyle wrestling are 48 kilograms/105.6 pounds; 53 kilograms/116.6 pounds; 58 kilograms/127.6 pounds; 63 kilograms/138.6 pounds; 69 kilograms/152 pounds; and 75 kilograms/165 pounds.

The six Olympic Greco-Roman weight classes: 59 kilograms/130 pounds; 66 kilograms/145 pounds; 75 kilograms/165 pounds; 85 kilograms/187 pounds; 98 kilograms/216 pounds; and 130 kilograms/286 pounds.

Wrestling's loss at the expense of new sports

Over the past decade or so, the IOC has had a goal of approximately 10,500 athletes competing in the Summer Games. The target for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is 10,616 athletes in 28 core sports.

Even while trying to maintain this total number of participants, the IOC has expanded its roster of sports for the Summer Games which take place in three years. On Friday, the IOC announced the addition of 3-on-3 basketball and BMX freestyle cycling for 2020. These are in addition to these sports the IOC added in August 2016 for the next Summer Olympics: baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing.

In addition, there are some new specific events added to existing sports, such as men's and women's Madison racing for track cycling, while swimming will add men's 800-meter freestyle and women's 1,500-meter freestyle. There will also be new mixed gender competitions, including a 4x100-meter mixed medley relay for swimming, and a 4x400 mixed relay on the track.

According to the IOC, these changes are being made to make the Olympics more equitable in terms of gender participation (the IOC expects women to make up 48.8 per cent of all athletics at the 2020 Olympics), along with an attempt to make the Summer Games more appealing to a wider segment of the population by adding sports designed to attract young, urban athletes and fans.

"I am delighted that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be more youthful, more urban and will include more women," IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement issued Friday announcing changes for the 2020 Olympics.

Why the cuts?

Why is wrestling -- which can trace its roots to ancient times, and has been a part of the Summer Games since the first modern Olympics in 1896 -- losing 56 slots at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

Websites covering other Olympic sports offered possible reasons.

Yahoo! Sports weighed in with this explanation: "The IOC is pushing for more gender balance among its sports and made several adjustments to the number of both events and athletes to do so. 2020 Tokyo will feature 285 fewer athletes than Rio. Weightlifting and wrestling were hit the hardest with a total of 120 athletes 'reduced' to 'reach gender balance.'", a website covering amateur and professional basketball in Europe, offered an explanation as to why 3-on-3 basketball was added at the apparent expense of other sports, such as wrestling, which had been eliminated from the Olympics by the IOC Executive Committee in February 2013 but restored later that year.

"One of the sports set for the chop was wrestling and the movement that followed in order to save Olympic wrestling (and rightly so, the Olympics have enough issues without dumping a sport that fires what remains of its soul) led to a change of tact from the IOC," according to BallinEurope.Com. "Instead of reducing sports, the goal would be to increase the total number of sports while reducing the number of events per sport."

To see the full list of sports and the number of athletes that can compete in each event for each sport at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, click here.


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jimmycher (2) about 2 and a half years ago
We lost slots because the current rules make for a boring sport. Nobody, who isn't directly involved in the sport (former athlete or family member), is going to watch anything but a 90 second highlight reel. The rules committee needs to get it's head out of it's ass and make the sport exciting.
zguiltybystander (4) about 2 and a half years ago
I'd love to see wrestling lead the way among sports and dump this festival filled with financial, corruption and political issues known as the Olympics. I wouldn't mind not having the Olympics substitute for the World Championships once every four years.
MLJ (1) about 2 and a half years ago
I assumed squash would be the next Olympic sport. I guess I was wrong.
Jfd (2) about 2 and a half years ago
The rules committee needs to accept the reality that the sport needs to be fan friendly, or at least understandable. The rules changes occur so often, coaches and competitors often don't keep up. If the sport does not change, it will continue to loose spectators and athletes . It's not just gender equality initiatives, but Instagram, Netflix and Xbox that take a toll on kids giving the sport in general a try.
gregzafros (1) about 2 and a half years ago
Wrestling needs to wake up and get rid of Greco Roman wrestling and add two weight classes to Freestyle. Non wrestling fans don't understand why there are two styles or what is going on in the un-natural actions in a Greco match.
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