NEW: Opponents take fight to Internet, creating Facebook page, online petitions
Wrestling to compete with seven other sports for spot in 2020 Games
Wrestling has been a part of all Games but one since 1896
IOC says sports selected based on relevance to sports fans
One of the world’s oldest sports may have lost its grip in the Olympic Games.
The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that it has recommended dropping wrestling from the Summer Games beginning in 2020.
“Wrestling will now join the 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,” the IOC said in a statement.
The governing body for the sport in the United States was so appalled at the decision, it started a Facebook page, “Keep Wrestling in the Olympics.”
In a statement, USA Wrestling Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun said, “It is important to remember that today’s action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world.”
At a meeting in Russia in May, representatives from the eight sports will make presentations for inclusion in the 2020 Games. The Executive Board will recommend one. The final word will come in a vote at the IOC’s general session in Argentina in September.
Whichever sport is chosen will join the 25 sports the IOC listed Tuesday as core sports for 2020: athletics (track and field), rowing, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, football (soccer), gymnastics, weightlifting, handball, field hockey, judo, swimming, modern pentathlon, taekwondo, tennis, table tennis, shooting, archery, triathlon, sailing and volleyball.
Wrestling will be included in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Opponents of the decision also took to Twitter, posting to the hashtag #SaveOlympicWrestling.
“The IOC has found a way, besides alien invasion, to unite Americans, Russians and Iranians. Fight begins anew,” tweeted K.J. Pilcher, a multimedia journalist in Iowa, a hotbed for the sport.
Kurt Angle, who won an Olympic gold medal before becoming a professional wrestler, wrote, “Show Your Love for the Sport. IOC Must Reverse Decision. Trend It Worldwide.”
Others wondered how sports like equestrian and disciplines like race walking and rhythmic gymnastics survived.
And as people are wont to do these days, they turned to the White House petition site, creating two asking the president to put pressure on the IOC to overturn its decision and one to boycott the Games if wrestling is not included. They each had fewer than 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Wrestling has been a part of all but one of the modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1896, missing only the 1900 Games in Paris.
Indeed, the website for Rio 2016 cites wrestling as “one of the longest practiced sports – perhaps only losing to athletics.”
“There are records of fights dating back to 3000 BC, and the sport was part of the Olympic Games of Antiquity,” the website says.
The sport has been contested in two styles, Greco-Roman and freestyle, since the 1920 Games in Belgium.
Seventy-two wrestling medals were awarded at the London Olympics last year.
So why, with such a rich history, is wrestling fighting with wakeboarding and wushu for survival?
“In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic Programme Commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games,” the IOC said in its statement Tuesday.
“Nonsense,” said the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, headquartered in Switzerland.
The group says it represents wrestlers from 180 countries, including many where wrestling is the national sport and the only sport that gives athletes a route to participation in the Games.
Federation officials will meet this week in Thailand to discuss the IOC’s decision and how to make a case for wrestling at the May IOC Executive Board meeting.
Meanwhile, on the message boards of TheMat.com, the official website of USA Wrestling, posters were calling the IOC decision the death of the sport in the U.S.
“You know what this means it is dead. What reasons do universities now have to keep programs that are not revenue sports that are not Olympic Sports,” wrote one.
“The day of reckoning has arrived for our beautiful sport. What a sad, sad course of events,” wrote another.
But at least one poster saw some logic in the IOC’s popularity reasoning and pointed at mixed martial arts, the combination of boxing, wrestling and martial arts that is drawing legions of new fans.
“It’s time to join forces with mma, because of its growing world wide popularity, and secure our growth and future as an essential part of its makeup. If we do not make this connection, we present ourselves as a single, fringe sport on the outside of popular” culture, one poster wrote.
The host city for the 2020 Summer Games will be chosen in September. Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid are the finalists.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Zayn Nabbi and Tom McGowan contributed to this report.