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Olympic Wrestling Snub Would Hit Post-Soviet States Hard

Uzbekistan's Artur Taymazov (left) wrestles Iran's Komeil Ghasemi in their Men's 120kg Freestyle wrestling quarterfinal match at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to demote wrestling from its list of so-called core sports for the 2020 Olympics has shocked athletes and boosters of the sport around the world.

It's quite a blow for one of the modern Olympic movement's original sports, and one that could hit some minor post-Soviet players in the Olympic medal chase especially hard.

The move isn't an automatic exclusion, but leaves Olympic wrestling to compete against seven other sports for a place among the roughly 300 disciplines that are to be included in the Games.

Many had regarded the modern pentathlon as the likeliest candidate for being dropped by the IOC at its February 12 review.

News reports weren't encouraging about wrestling's prospects, suggesting that the recommendation was likely to carry considerable weight at an IOC voting session in Buenos Aires in September.

A number of post-Soviet states have won a major portion of their Olympic medals in the sport's several events, including freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines.

More than half (14) of Azerbaijan's 26 Olympic medals since it began competing independently in 1996 have been in wrestling, including four gold medals. It won seven medals in wrestling at the London 2012 Games alone, hinting at the mounting funds and public attention that Azerbaijan was devoting to the sport.

Armenia's Arsen Julfalakian (top) competes in the men's 60 kg semifinals of the Greco-Roman wrestling at the London Olympics in August.
Armenia's Arsen Julfalakian (top) competes in the men's 60 kg semifinals of the Greco-Roman wrestling at the London Olympics in August.
In neighboring Armenia, six of the country's 12 Olympic medals since independence went to wrestlers.

Despite the embarrassment of recent squabbles surrounding Georgia's wrestling community ahead of its hosting of world championships in March, 11 of an independent Georgia's 21 Olympic medals came in wrestling events, with six of its seven spots on the podium in London occupied by wrestlers.

Fourteen of Kazakhstan's postindependence Summer Olympic medals are in wrestling, second only to boxing.

Seven of Uzbekistan's 21 Olympic medals have gone to wrestlers, although the country got a black eye when Soslan Tigiev was stripped of his London bronze for doping.

One of tiny Tajikistan's three Olympic medals was in wrestling, a silver finish in Beijing in 2008.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service talked to Youth and Sport Minister Malikshoh Nematov, who is also deputy chairman of the Tajik Olympic Committee. He touted the popularity of wrestling among Tajiks, saying that his country had "more than 1,000 wrestling halls in the country and still people complain that they have no place to exercise."

He vowed to "defend" the wrestling events independently and in conjunction with other regional bodies, saying that "we will act together with Asian Olympic Committee and the International Federation and raise our voice."

Kyrgyzstan has won three Olympic medals, two in wrestling*. (Female wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova went into London with some considering her the country's best hope for Olympic gold.)

Ukraine won a single wrestling medal in London of its total haul of 20.

Reuters noted that while other candidates for the ax like "pentathlon and taekwondo have the support of senior IOC members, wrestling is not strongly represented in the IOC's decision-making body."

Russia's Besik Kudukhov poses with his silver medal on the podium in London in August.
Russia's Besik Kudukhov poses with his silver medal on the podium in London in August.
Russia's Olympic medal table is more diverse, but wrestling was still responsible for 11 of its 82 medals in London.

So it was perhaps unexpected that the president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, Mikhail Mamiashvili, quickly complained on Rossia-24 television of the IOC recommendation.

"This was indeed unexpected, and it is very upsetting," Mamiashvili said. "I already had that information before the meeting of the [IOC] Executive Committee from our friends at the IOC and I immediately informed the president of the International [Wrestling] Federation about it and demanded that he take every measure to prevent this from happening."

*CORRECTION: This post has been edited to correct Kyrgyzstan's Olympic medal total to three. We regret the error.

-- Andy Heil

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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