Wrestling with exclusion
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Stories are powerful vehicles not just in humanising incredible feats. Assembled together, as they are in wrestling's case, they illumine the standards that have been — and crucially, continue to be — set as a sturdy legacy for future generations to measure themselves against. Surely, when we measure the viability of sport in staying on in the Olympics, this living legacy must count for more than the fickle affections of television audiences. I challenge you to take beach volleyball and count for me ways in which it has a comparably evolving standard for accomplishment.
And hockey? That it came so near expulsion is stunning. I'd argue that if an Olympic medal is to have a core meaning in relation to a particular sport, it should be its essential stamp as that sport's supreme attainment. Heeding advice that a casual spectator at a multi-sport event is best served by taking one sport she did not know so well and, day after day of competition, tracking its progress, I took the opportunity at Delhi's Commonwealth Games to meet the teams, women's and men's, after as many hockey matches as I could. And I'd ask them, what is your highest ambition? They'd answer — to the last person, including the Indian challengers and Australian greats — just one thing, the Olympic gold. Nothing else would compare. Ask a tennis or soccer player the same question, and I doubt you'd hear the word Olympics. This is, after all, why cricket does not have a case for inclusion in the Olympics, never mind its Twenty20 portability and its gargantuan television audience.
India's sports administration is a complete mess right now. It now has a chance to signal a turn towards renewal by preparing for the September meet and making common and fruitful cause with furious federations in wrestling's great and richly diverse arc. Because you have to ask of those wise folks at Lausanne, what do they know of the Olympics who only the Olympics know?