Wrestling with exclusion

The point, mind you, is not just the Olympics' ancient association with wrestling. The ancients would, in any case, likely be bored by the abbreviated and highly sanitised contests that now pass as wrestling bouts. The point is to place wrestling — yes, even for somebody like me, who first made acquaintance with it only because, frankly, an Indian snapped an individual medal in Beijing — at the centre to hazard what may be the standards by which something may be termed a core sport at the Olympics.

The IOC is oligarchically clubbish and incredibly reticent, and we have only news reports to indicate the criteria by which a sport is axed: television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping issues, universal popularity. There was a time when universal popularity would have been considered key to tackling what sports should be axed to address the problem of the so-called gigantism at the Olympics. Every association wants its sport blessed by participation at the Olympics, and something needs to be done to curb the resultant unwieldy sprawl. Additionally, pruning is essential, if more sports are to be introduced to heed the changing coordinates of human endeavour.

But wrestling? To venture near a mat in a multi-country competition is to breathe in the dust wrestlers bring from local traditions worldwide. It is to be entranced by stories — many of them gathered for a beginner like me in David Wallechinsky's treasure trove — recounting the resonance of so many feats and the brotherhood of the sport. Of Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, India's first (and for many decades, only) individual Olympic medallist, whose village turned out to escort him back for the final 40 km after he won a bronze at Helsinki in 1952, the same Games where another Indian was placed fourth in the featherweight category. Of men winning medals while carrying abscessed ears and separated shoulders. Of an Azerbaijani medallist from the 1964 Games who was later involved in the theft of a Rembrandt to pay for a Japanese wrestler's treatment. Of the endurance of American Bruce Baumgartner. Of the initials JP attached to the Iranian hero Gholamreza Takhti to denote "Jahan Pahlevan", world champion. Of Sushil Kumar's shy insistence after his Beijing win that his mentor be an equal claimant to the accolades.

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