Wrestling as an Olympic sport may be down on the mat.
A Richmond Olympian and Commonwealth Games champion, however, is refusing to loosen his grip on efforts to keep the sport a part of the Olympics, and is moving forward with hopes to develop a world-class training facility locally.
On Monday, the International Olympic Committee announced wrestling—both freestyle and Greco-Roman categories in men’s and women’s competitions—would not be part of the 2020 Olympic Summer Games.
Slumping ticket sales at the quadrennial event, as well as low TV ratings were reported reasons why one of the oldest competitions in the modern Olympic Games was being dropped.
Richmond’s Arjan Singh Bhullar, who would like to establish a wrestling program based at the Richmond Olympic Oval, couldn’t disagree more.
When he competed at the 2012 games in London, Bhullar, 26, said tickets to the wrestling venue were next to impossible to get. And interest remains high in the 180 countries that have national organizations governing the sport.
After an early morning phone call from a friend woke him up with the news Monday, Bhullar, who is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the 120-kg class, said he thought it was a “cruel joke.”
As the shock started to set in, Bhullar began working on ways—through social media—to try and stave off the planned elimination of Olympic wrestling which has been a fixture since the first games of the modern era were held in Athens, Greece in 1896.
He says there’s a lot at stake, especially here as the sport’s disappearance at the Olympics could threaten his hopes for a program at the oval.
Bhullar said he has had preliminary discussions with oval officials and believes it could still get off the ground given the sport could be retained when the IOC holds a final vote on the matter in September. It’s a lifeline the wrestling community in Canada and around the rest of the world is trying to rally around.
“When I found out there’s still hope, there’s still a final vote coming up, I’ve allied with other supporters of the sport to get as much noise out there as we can to support us,” Bhullar said, sitting in a barn on his family’s farm that has been converted into a wrestling gym complete with a large wrestling mat and workout equipment.
He remains optimistic the sport at the Olympic level can be retained given the fact one of the largest competing nations — the United States — is also a major sponsor of the games.
“There’s about a million people wrestling in the U.S., and they have some of the biggest companies backing the Olympics, like Visa and McDonald’s,” he said.
But the possibility that there could be no wrestling beyond the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro hit home hard at a personal level.
“(Wrestling’s) kinda been my identity,” Bhullar said. “Everything I have in my life, and everything I owe is due to the sport of wrestling.”
Bhullar started wrestling as a youngster, following in the footsteps of his father Avtar.
“I was literally in diapers,” he said, pointing to a gallery of pictures on the walls of the gym showing an array of wrestlers, some from India where his father moved from in 1971, to Bhullar proudly raising the Canadian flag following his victory at the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, India.
“Someone asked me yesterday, ‘Was this the saddest day of your life?’ It quite possibly was,” Bhullar said.