IOC fixes error reinstating wrestling to Olympic programme
After revamp that led to return to 2020 and 2024 programme, governing body Fila won't rest until ancient discipline regains core status
After winning its place back in the Olympics, wrestling, a sport as ancient as the Games themselves, is even more determined to stay there for centuries to come.
The International Olympic Committee fixed what it admits was a big mistake on Sunday, voting wrestling back onto the programme for the 2020 and 2024 Games.
Presenting new leadership and a revamped sport, wrestling easily defeated bids from baseball-softball and squash to regain its Olympic status. The result capped a frantic six-month campaign by the wrestling body Fila to save its Olympic status after the IOC executive board surprisingly cut it from the list of core sports in February.
"We are aware of our mistakes and they will not happen again," Fila president Nenad Lalovic said. "This crisis gave us the strength to change and we finally found out that we can change. This was the most valuable experience of all of this journey."
Wrestling received 49 votes to win in the first round of the secret ballot by the International Olympic Committee. Baseball-softball got 24 votes and squash 22.
"Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "They have taken a number of steps to modernise and improve their sport."
The vote followed final presentations by all three sports, with Lalovic calling it "the most important day in the 2,000-year history of our sport".
Wrestling's reinstatement appeared virtually assured for months after IOC members acknowledged that the executive board erred by cutting the sport in the first place.
"I think what happened was what most people thought, that the previous decision was wrong," Puerto Rican member and presidential candidate Richard Carrion said.
Wrestling goes back to the ancient Olympics in Greece and has been on the programme of every modern Games except 1900. The sport was caught off guard when it was axed by the board - a decision that surprised even most IOC members. Raphael Martinetti resigned as Fila president within days of the IOC vote and was replaced by Lalovic.
Fila reworked its structure, giving women and athletes a role in decision making. It added two weight classes for women. It adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand and more fun to watch, and reward more aggressive wrestling.
Powerful countries and unlikely political allies like the United States, Iran and Russia threw their weight behind the campaign. "Wrestling is not a new sport," Lalovic said. "But the wrestling we are presenting now is a new wrestling."
Wrestling was approved by the IOC as an "additional sport" for 2020 and 2024. Fila's goal now is to win back a place in the list of 25 "core" sports.
"We have to understand that in four years we will have to compete again to become a core sport," Lalovic said. "So we can't stop now. What we have to do in four years is more difficult."
With wrestling's return, no new sport has been added to the 2020 Games, defeating the original purpose of the IOC's programme review process.
"The result is we are back where we started and they've spent a lot of time and energy, emotional or otherwise in a process that was pretty well doomed," Canadian member Dick Pound said.
Pound proposed postponement of the vote for five months to allow a new sport to get in, but that was rejected by Rogge and the rest of the delegates.
"This doesn't happen in the IOC too often, but that vote is to tell the executive committee, you made a mess of this and we're going to fix the mess and we've got to figure out another way forward," Pound said.
For the future, the IOC will consider tweaking the process, possibly juggling events and disciplines to make room for new sports, while keeping within the cap of 10,500 athletes.