BUENOS AIRES, Brazil – Wrestling has retained its place on the Olympic sports program after winning a clear-cut victory over its two rivals today in the Argentinean capital.
On a day described by Nenad Lalovic, president of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), as “the most important in the 3,000-year history of our sport,” wrestling polled 49 votes to win in the first of a possible two rounds of voting.
Baseball-softball came second with 24 votes, with squash third with 22.
The decision means wrestling will take its place at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, as it has at all Olympics since 708 BC, with the exception of Paris 1900; there is a chance, indeed, that the sport could be thrust quickly into the spotlight in the Japanese capital, as a possible source of the host nation’s first gold medal of the Games.
Universally perceived as the likeliest winner in this three-way contest, it was little surprise that wrestling took few risks in its presentation to International Olympic Committee (IOC) members.
Lalovic himself, who more than anyone has revived the sport’s prospects since its surprise ejection from the list of Olympic core sports in February, was dignified and presidential.
Afterwards, he offered his “sincere gratitude” to “each member of the IOC that voted to save Olympic wrestling,” while appealing to the sport to “remain united to make certain we live up to the expectations that have been placed on all of us by virtue of this vote.”
There is no doubt the sport would do well to heed his plea: though it was a comfortable victory, IOC members left the presentation team in no doubt that they would remain under much scrutiny with a string of probing questions related to rule changes, gender parity and other “mistakes,” including allegations of corruption, that first got wrestling into trouble.
“We have made mistakes,” Lalovic admitted, “but we decided to listen and learn. We are aware of our mistakes and they will not happen again.”
One hallmark of a winning presentation that shrewdly did not dwell too much on wrestling’s unique Olympic heritage, was an air of authenticity stemming from a sense that the athletes who spoke contributed heavily to writing their own scripts.
Sydney 2000 gold medallist Daniel Igali spoke candidly of how his enthusiasm for the Olympics as a child in Nigeria was instilled partly because it would mean he got to fly on an airplane.
Canada’s Beijing 2008 gold medallist Carol Huynh admitted with a smile that wrestlers could be “maybe just a little stubborn,” adding: “It takes courage to step out on the mat with that tight singlet on.”
Wrestling’s pitch also featured what was possibly the first “appearance” at an IOC Session by rap artist Dizzee Rascal, whose song “Scream it from your heart” provided a stirring soundtrack for one of the films.
The most memorable moments from baseball-softball’s presentation came when a highly emotional Don Porter, co-President of the recently-formed World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), entering his fifth decade working for softball, appealed to IOC members for their support with an allusion to 511 letters he received from disappointed softball players when the sport was dropped from the Games program some years ago.
“I hope today that you will find a place for those little girls in the Olympics and help restore their dreams,” Porter concluded.
It was not nearly enough to erode the lead that wrestling was felt to hold from early in the race, but it mayhave been a factor in enabling baseball-softball to pip squash for second place.
This will have been a blow to squash, since the decision might make it more difficult for those championing it to plot an alternative path onto the Olympic sports program via a review expected under the new IOC Presidency.
World squash champion Ramy Ashour led an unsuccessful bid by his sport to get it onto the program for Tokyo 2020.
Their presentation had an informal feel, with athletes on the platform dressed in charcoal grey sports shirts rather than the usual more formal attire.
It was the most innovative of the three pitches, with a strong emphasis on youth and the sport’s technological progress and visual appeal.
Ultimately, however, its appeal to IOC members to “achieve the aim of refreshing the Olympic program” via a sport that has not featured in the Games before fell on deaf ears.
Contact the writer of this story David Owen through his Twitter feed that can be accessed here. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article and its photos are reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.