So that's what the Olympics are about now: TV and star appeal.
With one shortsighted move last week, the International Olympic Committee — the most misguided, imperious, wrongheaded sports governing body this side of the NCAA — revealed its hand.
They cut wrestling.
They cut one of the original sports of the ancient Olympics, which made its first recorded debut in 708 B.C.
They cut a sport that was featured in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and included in every Games since.
They cut it because it wasn't telegenic — Citius, altius, fortius, telegenicus.
They cut it because it lacks star appeal (think Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt).
They cut it because it doesn't sell enough Nikes and Big Macs.
They cut it because it's not "relevant."
They cut it because it doesn't appeal to the younger audience.
It's all about the TV ratings, which is to say it's all about — you guessed it — money. If this had been fake (pro) wrestling, and not real wrestling, it probably would have made the cut.
TV is the worst thing ever to happen to sports and especially to the Olympics (and college football). When it comes to TV and sports, the tail wags the dog. TV and cable networks don't just cover the event, they dictate it — time, place, matchup and now the sport itself.
What does TV and money and telegenic have to do with the Olympic ideal of competition?
What do they think this is, the BCS bowl season?
The sport of Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, Rulon Gardner and Alexander Karelin will be gone after the 2016 Games.
But, wait, the sport can reapply for admission, although it isn't expected to succeed. The sport will have to compete for admission against the likes of rock climbing, rollerblading and wakeboarding.
But no lawn darts? No bowling?
It isn't merely what the IOC rejected; it's what the IOC embraced: Table tennis (ping pong). Equestrian (rich people on horses). Sailing (rich people on yachts). Rhythmic gymnastics (frolicking with ribbons and hoops). Synchronized swimming (theme: We were big in the '50s). Shooting (not very PC). Judo. Handball. Canoeing. Kayaking. Badminton. Rowing.
Is this the Olympics or a picnic?
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, "It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling; it is what's right with the 25 core sports."
Is he serious? The 25 "core sports" include the picnic sports, plus fencing, judo and taekwondo — oh, and modern pentathlon.
Wrestling was cut so the Olympic program would have room to continue the inclusion of modern pentathlon, which is not modern, not a pentathlon and not relevant.
It consists of running, shooting, horseback riding and fencing — which is perfectly relevant if you're the Three Musketeers (they got rid of swimming, so its four events, not five, as the name suggests). If they really want a modern pentathlon — one that appealed to, say, the kids — the pentathlon would consist of playing video games, downloading apps, texting, getting in and out of skinny jeans and listening to indie rock.
The modern pentathlon was created by the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who, according to Wikipedia, modeled it to simulate the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines — he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with a pistol and sword, swim, and run." It's popularity, such as it is, is pretty much confined to Europe.
So there you have it: No popularity, no TV appeal, no modern relevance whatsoever, nothing. What it does have is friends in the right places. According to an ESPN report, the modern pentathlon's survival benefited from the lobbying of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president who is a member of the IOC board and vice president of the modern pentathlon federation.
Translation: It was a political decision.
The wrestling federation (FILA) is represented in 180 countries, with 344 wrestlers competing in London and 29 countries winning medals. Along with track, wrestling is one of the world's pure sports, pitting man against man.
But it's not telegenic and that's what matters. The modernized modern Olympics are trying to be hip. What next, an Olympic reality TV show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest? Audience participation, with TV viewers deciding the winners via texting? An American idol Olympic tryout?
The possibilities are endless.
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