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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wrestling Out, Dancing In: The Modern Olympics

Even as custom or tradition that has outlived its justification—which is not the same as usefulness—is essentially deadwood, there is presumptuousness in redefining a concept or event without regard to how it is understood. For example, Stephanie Meyers disregarded one of the major confining attributes of the vampire lore in enabling the vampires of the Twilight saga to not only stand in the sunlight, but actually sparkle!  It was as though Meyers felt she need not be constrained to fit into the folklore; she could essentially redefine it. Were a reader to object, “that’s not a vampire then!” she would presumptuously state matter-of-factly, “yes it is.” This is essentially subjectivity presuming to define social reality as a projection of whatever the self wills. Any constraint on the self is presumptuously thrown off as though with impunity.  Modernity itself may have this attitude in paying too little heed to established definitions and practices in seeking to redefine them (mindlessly retaining customs being the other side of the coin).  The Olympics may be a case in point.
In February 2013, the International Olympic Committee decided to remove wrestling form the 2020 Olympics. That the sport was among those of the ancient Olympic games in Greece was apparently an easily-dismissible factor. Although the committee did not disclose its reasons, the desire to draw younger viewers, who follow potential alternatives such as climbing and wakeboarding, was likely among the committee members’ reasons.

                                                                                                     Wrestling was a sport in ancient Greece, as depicted here on this ancient vase.     BBC
Although including new sports to make the Olympics relevant to a contemporary audience is advisable, and keeping the games from growing without limit is doubtlessly prudent, taking from one of the most Olympic sports risks removing the distinctiveness of the games, as rooted in the sports of the ancient games. “I think this is a really stupid decision,” an Olympic historian said. “It was in the ancient Olympics. It has been in the modern Olympics since 1896.” The decision looks even more stupid relative to the committee’s action to retain “rhythmic gymnastics,” which is basically dancing to music. In one manifestation, the “gymnastic athletes” conduct artistic movements with ribbons.  Watching the performance, a viewer is apt to wonder how dance had become a sport—not to mention an Olympic sport. Meanwhile, the ancient Olympic sport of wrestling is expendable.
Two underlying problems, or mentalities, are evinced in this case study. First, if rhythmic gymnastics is a sport simply because it is scored and has an international federation, then virtually anything under the sun could be classified as a sport. The very term sport could become a near-tautology. One person could mean one thing by the term while another person means something else.  The term itself could become mere reflections of personal ideological agendas.
Secondly, dismissing something elemental to a concept while continuing to admit and tolerate applications exogenous to the unmolested concept essentially “morphs” the concept into another without being intellectually honest in renaming the concept. If dance rather than wrestling is the way the Olympics are to go, then at least shouldn’t the games be renamed so people do not expect them to be the modern expression of the ancient games. In other words, in expressing the basis of the games still in ancient Greece, such as by starting the torch at the original site, and yet shifting the games away from the ancient games and toward activities that may not even be sports, the International Olympic Committee was at the very least sending mixed signals—or worse, trying to have it both ways. The result could be that the concept, Olympics, becomes severely blurred in meaning. The culprit is the presumptuous ego bristling at any possible constraint.


Jere Longman, “Olympics Moves to Drop Wrestling in 2020,” The New York Times, February 12, 2013.