Wrestling changes rules to save Olympic status
Officials undertake regulation shake-up to avoid threat of losing Olympic endorsement
The ancient sport of wrestling has agreed to a shake-up of its rules to make it more attractive for spectators, in a desperate bid to stave off the threat of being axed from the Olympics in 2020.
The decision of the International Olympic Committee's executive committee in February to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games devastated the sport's global community. It also raised fears of the gradual death of a sport whose origins go back to the ancient Greeks and Persians.
But the sport has a stay of execution. The IOC executive board is set to meet in St Petersburg, Russia, on May 29 to recommend events for the 2020 Games. The full IOC session, will make the final decision in Buenos Aires in September.
"Now is the time to move. We cannot move forward without this plan. Let us start again and keep the dream alive," said International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (Fila) president Nenad Lalovic.
"Like an encounter on the mat, we are going to take advantage of this chance to score."
The Fila congress met in Moscow to agree on the changes, with delegates saying their sport had failed to keep pace with shifts in global sports and that wrestling risked looking boring and incomprehensible to outsiders.
The rule changes to the Greco Roman and freestyle disciplines aim to make the sport more attractive for television by favouring spectacular throws and attacking wrestling.
Rather than being scored on the best of three two-minute periods, bouts will be two times three minutes with cumulative scoring.
A take-down will be rewarded with two points instead of one, while there will be less incentive for wrestlers to push opponents off the mat, urging them instead to try to make plays inside.
A 30-second "shot clock", similar to that employed in basketball, will be switched on if a wrestler is deemed to be passive, allowing 30 seconds to score or the opponent will get a point.
"There is an added incentive compared with the old rules for more dynamic wrestling and spectacular throws," said Fila vice-president and former United States wrestling great Stan Dziedzic, who helped develop the changes.
He admitted the suddenness of the changes meant "it won't be easy", but said the rules would be used at the world championships in Budapest in September.
Wrestling now has the task of arguing the merits of its inclusion in the Olympics at the IOC executive board meeting later this month against potential new Olympic sports with far less historic pedigree ranging from wushu to wake boarding.
"We got what we needed [from the congress] for our struggle to remain in the Olympic family," Lalovic said, adding that he was "confident" wrestling could remain in the Games.
The government of Russia - which has counted on wrestling as a source of Olympic medals - has been among the leading opponents of the sport's exclusion and told the congress that it held the fate of the sport in its own hands.
"You need to show the ability to respond to the challenges and the threats and, with a united front, do everything to prove that wrestling deserves its place in the Olympic family," sports minister Vitaly Mutko said.
Meanwhile, the congress also approved changes to the Fila constitution and structure to impress the IOC. It confirmed Serbian Lalovic, 55, as president until next year, to replace wrestling's former strongman Raphael Martinetti, who resigned following the IOC's original decision to scrap the sport.