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'New' wrestling re-instated for 2020 Olympic Games

9 September 2013

Wrestling has won the vote at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina to be included on the programme for the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games.

Wrestling, which is one of the rare sports to have transcended the ancient and modern Olympics, won in the first round of voting with 49 of the 95 votes cast.

The joint bid of baseball/softball was second with 24 votes and squash received 22.

The result means wrestling is assured of appearing at the 2020 Games - to be hosted by Tokyo - and in 2024.

It is a remarkable turnaround after the sport was dropped as a core sport by the IOC Executive Board in February and then given the opportunity to contest for the final place at the Games by the same board when it was short-listed with baseball/softball and squash to be judged by the full IOC.

President of the Wrestling Federation Nenad Lalovic, who is to be credited for some vast changes since taking over,  thanked the IOC members during the presentation for giving his organisation the opportunity to save his sport.

“This is the most important day in the 3,000 year history of our sport,” he said.

“We need the Olympic Games to assure our existence."

Wrestling said it had streamlined the sport since the Executive Board (EB) of the IOC voted to drop it as a core member sport of the Olympic Games. The EB’s decision was a ‘wake-up call’ for the International Federation, FILA.

Some of the changes implemented already included replacing two men’s freestyle events with an additional two women’s freestyle events. In essence, gender equality won the day for wrestling >>>

The scoring system for some moves has changed as has the length and number of rounds to encourage more attacking competition with less influence from referees.

Lalovic said that work had only just begun and they would consult with experts to overhaul the presentation of the sport and overall look of the stadium.

Changes to the sport have made it already more exciting and attractive to the media.

“This is the new wrestling,” Lisa LeGrand, female wrestler and Olympic medallist, told the IOC delegates. She said wrestling was not her first choice of sport but once she started she loved it.

Changes to wrestling include more women’s divisions in freestyle. One IOC member has asked about corruption in the sport. And another wants to know about the changes in the sport.

The President said, “wrestling has made mistakes but we won’t make those mistakes again. We have re-built and modernised the sport. It affects everyone including referees and I think we are on the right track to succeed.”

"With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference," said Lalovic.

"I assure each of you that our modernisation will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic Movement that we can be.

"To the millions of wrestlers, supporters and fans around the world that came together to save Olympic wrestling, I offer a very big thank you.

"Every one of you fought very hard for this victory."

All three sports had lobbied hard and sold the key elements the IOC looks for- such as: gender equality, cost, attraction to broadcasters and evolution of rules. In the end the wrestling bid team convinced the 95 voting IOC Members that they had changed enough in six months and the overhaul of their organisation meant they were on a path for the future and the best thing for the Olympic movement.

The presentations for Baseball/Softball and Squash both featured Australians and were the superior presentations. However the ancient tradition and use of Olympic wrestling medallists to convey how the athletes approved of all of the recent changes for the future was enough for the IOC to warrant holding on to one of the most ancient of all sports.

Leading in to the vote the buzz around Buenos Aires was that wrestling would win the vote. There was concern from some members of the IOC that to re-instate the sport would confuse people and embarrass the IOC so soon after being dumped. Canadian IOC Member Dick Pound suggested delaying the vote a further five months to propose that wrestling should be considered as an experienced core sport rather than fighting with a sport like squash which had never been in the Games.

However President Rogge rejected this proposal at the point of no return with the process. In the end the ‘new wrestling’ pitch was enough.

For Australia’s IOC members, Kevan Gosper, John Coates and James Tomkins, it will have been a tough choice to make. Wrestling is a member sport of the AOC, Baseball/Softball is recognised by the AOC and Australia is extremely strong in world squash.

From a medal point of view for Australia, Baseball/Softball offered the best opportunity and Australia has a fantastic tradition with success in Squash.

Former five-time Squash World Champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, who now heads the Athletes’ Commission presented with her sport’s bid.

"Every one of our athletes dreams of competing in the Olympic Games," Fitz-Gerald said. 

Fitz-Gerald, was world number one for 40 months, she regrets that she never had the opportunity to play for Australia at the Olympics. She is proud of the advances squash has made in gender equality. They are proposing a knockout tournament for the Olympics with 32 men and 32 women competing on two courts with 4,000 spectators watching on. It would be a knock-out competition. 

The game has changed for broadcast to make it more attractive to Olympic viewers with glass floors and glass walls on the courts. Their presentation was pitching innovation.

Squash is arguing that their sport is truely global, not just a sport played in Commonwealth countries. They boast World Champions from all five continents.

Squash officials say you can locate a court anywhere, at any iconic location in a host city. There are professional tournaments happening in 47 countries this year. They are proud of their anti-doping record with 100% compliance with WADA.

For squash, there will also be huge disappointment that a journey which started 10 years ago - seeing them top the vote in 2005 but fail to get the required two-thirds majority and then fail again in 2009 - still has some distance to go before they perhaps achieve their ultimate goal.

"Today's decision is heartbreaking for the millions of squash players around the world, particularly given the 10-year journey we have been on to join the Olympic Games Sports Program," said squash federation president Narayana Ramachandran.

"I am encouraged by the vote we received today. We have much to offer the Olympic Movement and I am hopeful that today is not the end of our Olympic journey."

Pitching for the combined baseball/softball bid, lobbyists said that all of the world’s best players would be desperate to compete at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Australian pro baseball player Justin Huber, who has played at the top in the USA and Japan and now plays for the Melbourne Aces told the session that the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. He guaranteed all of the world's best players would want to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The baseball/softball bid proposes one venue and two 6-day competitions back to back with baseball in the first week and softball in the second.

They also proposed making age changes to be a part of the Youth Olympic Games, to reduce the number of athletes for the Olympic Games and they are expanding some forms of Paralympic versions of their Games.

Baseball was dropped in 2005 after being plagued by doping problems in the professional code and was forced to unite with softball as a combined federation to give themselves the best chance of inclusion. 

See the key points of each presentation and how the day evolved here>>>

There are now almost two days of meetings and reports on progress of future Games, before the new IOC President and Vice President is determined. See the full schedule here>>>

Andrew Reid

Olympics.com.au            @AUSOlympicTeam

Gender equality won the day for wrestling >>>

Tokyo wins the 2020 bid>>>

Read the wraps of each presentation here>>>

Watch the full presentations here>>>  

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