published Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Tennessee lawmakers seethe over Olympics wrestling ban

NASHVILLE — It's enough to leave the chairman of the Tennessee Senate's wrestling caucus tied in knots.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is one of a growing number of political figures at the state and national levels furious over last week's secret vote by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee to eliminate wrestling as an official Olympic sport in 2020.

"We are outraged," declared Watson, a one-time champion Baylor School wrestler, Monday. "It's ridiculous. Wrestling is the oldest known competitive sport."

In Watson's view, wrestling is "the foundation of the Olympic games dating back to their origin, not even the modern Olympics, [but] the Olympics of the ancient Greeks. Come on."

Not only that, he told Senate colleagues last week, it's mentioned in the Bible (Jacob and the angel).

In Washington, the IOC executive committee's move has spurred a rare bipartisan movement with former wrestlers such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a Republican, to U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., ready to go to the mat.

"The sport develops self-reliance, discipline, perseverance and strategic thinking," Rumsfeld said in an op/ed piece published in the Washington Post. "But it also encourages civility, integrity and self-restraint.

"These qualities certainly reflect the proud tradition of the Olympic Games, which is why I fervently hope the committee will reconsider its unfortunate decision."

Federal lawmakers have introduced a resolution formally opposing the IOC executive committee's decision. According to news accounts, wrestling now joins seven other sports, including baseball and softball, battling for inclusion in the 2020 games. The final vote will come in September.

Watson said this is one time he's content to let Washington take the lead.

"It doesn't matter what a guy from Tennessee thinks," Watson said. "I was just shocked that they would take wrestling out of the Olympics."

The Olympics flap is only the latest controversy to hit the Senate's three-member wrestling caucus. Earlier this month, fellow Republican Mike Bell, of Riceville, abruptly declared on the Senate floor to Watson's astonishment that he considers himself the chairman.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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