Olympics chief Rogge faces backlash over vote to eliminate wrestling

Japan, Turkey and others say it's outrageous to eliminate a sport as old as the Games themselves

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 4:59am


Wrestling may be facing a bleak Olympic future but it could have the last laugh at the International Olympic Committee's session in September in Buenos Aires.

IOC members were already angry that such an important issue as voting a sport off the Olympic programme should be decided initially by the 15-member executive board (EB).

Now that anger, mixed with the backlash over the expulsion of wrestling - one of the few sports to have crossed over from the Ancient Games to Pierre de Coubertin's modern version -- could boil over at the IOC congress from September 7-10.

It could also cast a shadow over the climax of IOC president Jacques Rogge's 12-year term, but it's a scenario that some members believe was entirely avoidable.

One of them, who is not a member of the EB, said it could end up making the whole process look ridiculous.

"We could see because of the furore over wrestling's expulsion that the next EB meeting [in St Petersburg, Russia, from May 29-31] decides to put forward three sports including wrestling for consideration at the congress," the member said.

"If that is the case then wrestling stands a very good chance of being voted back onto the programme. Then where does that put this whole process? It just makes it look ludicrous.

"It shouldn't have happened in the first place. There is enough to be voted on in Buenos Aires with the city for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Rogge's successor. It should have been held over till next year, if at all."

The furore over wrestling's predicament is in stark contrast to the rather muted reaction to the voting off of baseball and softball in 2009, probably because they ended up being replaced by the commercially attractive golf and rugby sevens.

This time round, however, the candidate sports don't carry as much glamour as those two.

However, unlike baseball and softball - who have joined forces to try and regain their Olympic spot - wrestling, for many, belongs in the Olympics because of its historic ties to the Games.

"The reason there was such an uproar round the world to wrestling's exclusion is because of its history and being a symbol of the essence of what the Games are about," said the IOC member.

Wrestling will now have to do something they were guilty of not doing before the EB meeting to ensure they stay in the race to regain their spot - lobbying.

"The trouble for wrestling is that they don't have an IOC member so when it came to the lobbying there was no one on the inside fighting for them," said the member.

"By voting wrestling off they were safe in that they weren't offending one of their own - an IOC member."

Wrestling was also outmanoeuvred by modern pentathlon and taekwondo, who realised they were facing problems in retaining their places and started their campaigns almost as soon as the London Games finished in August.

They both fought highly effective campaigns with modern pentathlon's success a coup for IOC EB member Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, who will hope for another one on September 7 when Madrid is up against Istanbul and Tokyo for the right to host the 2020 Games.

Istanbul and Tokyo - both of whom have strong traditions in the sport - were not pleased by the exclusion of wrestling.

The president of the Turkish wrestling federation, Hamza Yerlikaya, was furious.

"To have the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul without wrestling is unthinkable," he said. "We won't allow it."

In the end wrestling's future may well rest on who wins the bid to host the Games as their vote takes place after the vote on the bid city.

A win for Tokyo or Istanbul would boost their chances, but perhaps not so if Madrid is named host city.

But whichever way it goes, IOC members will hope the mess brings a change from Rogge's successor in the voting system the next time the issue comes around.