Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wrestling Not an Olympic Sport?

A scant 25 years ago, commercial considerations were viewed as "contaminating" the Olympic ideal. Now, they are viewed as being more important than 28 centuries of  Olympic history.

Consider this a Coda to my review of Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy.  Should ticket sales and TV ratings be the only "neutral" criteria for judging what sports deserve the appellation  'Olympic'? Until a couple of decades ago, the Olympic mission was considered to be the modern version of an ancient tradition. and a model of  athletic virtue and excellence.

Opening the Olympics to professionals was one thing: completely displacing all-non-commercial criteria for what constitutes an Olympic sport is another. Golf, beach volleyball, baseball and softball, apparently all have higher TV ratings and ticket sales than does Olympic-style  wrestling. Understood.  But history, hallowed ancient history at that--and the notion that the Olympics is different from commercial sport-as-entertainment--matters.  The history and ideals of the Olympics matters. The sporting and cultural universe will surely be the weaker for  this horrid capitulation to, and homogenization of, popular taste.

Many people will not understand this, but most can and should be made to reflect upon it. Part of the mission of the Olympics is to educate us about Olympic history and the Olympic ideal, with its origins in Ancient Greece and Rome and its classical focus on individual sports that were deemed relevant to the development of  complete warriors and citizens.  Wrestling continues to be lauded not only for this historical background but for its status as a  sport that demands complete, all-round mental and physical development.

In part, the Olympics is a legacy bequeathed by the Ancient classical civilization to our own. Golf is more popular with the affluent and middle-aged denizens of  North America and Asia.   But their market power should not be given exclusive licence to define the Olympian ideal.

No comments: