SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/Olympics

Sports make their cases for return to Games

Wrestling, softball/baseball and squash are jockeying to be the lone sport added to the program for the 2020 Summer Olympics, a vote with varying degrees of urgency in terms of the future for each sport.

The selection will be made Sunday by members of the International Olympic Committee. A spot in the Olympics guarantees a sport international broadcast exposure and credibility that can be used to attract new participants and business partners. It also guarantees a minimum of $14 million every four years for the international federation behind the sport.

Wrestling comes into the vote with the most urgency. The sport, which was part of the ancient Olympics of Greece, was bounced from the Olympic program earlier this year. It has spent the last seven months refashioning its governing federation and recasting some of the sport’s rules.

The federation (FILA) ousted its longtime president and replaced him with Serbian Nenad Lalovic. It simplified its competition
format, reducing the number of sessions in a match and shifting to a cumulative scoring system to encourage wrestlers to be more aggressive on the mat. It also added two women’s weights, a change designed to address the IOC’s desire to increase the amount of female participation in the Olympics.

Former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Jim Scherr, who’s a member of the wrestling federation’s board, hopes those changes and the federation’s lobbying this year will be
Wrestling, squash, and baseball and softball are all trying to return to the games, but only one sport will be added for 2020.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
enough to keep the sport in the Olympics.

“Wrestling’s leadership was not active within the Olympic family before,” Scherr said. “It didn’t have much of a voice. It didn’t explain well the reach and strength of wrestling, nor did it showcase the existing assets of wrestling. Beyond that, the issues wrestling has that they can improve on: more transparency and efficiency in governance, adding women’s athletes, and issues in the field of play like making rules more understandable. We’ve done that.”

Softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games. The sports’ federations — the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation — combined last year and are putting forward a joint bid. The proposal calls for one venue, which would reduce construction costs for host cities, and a competition plan that would see baseball played in the first week and softball in the second week of the Games.

The bid should benefit from Major League Baseball’s new approach to combating performance-enhancing drugs, which was an issue in 2008. It has stepped up suspensions and testing of players since then, and any anti-doping measures will go a long way with an IOC that wants to eradicate PEDs from sports.

But the IOC wants the best in the world to participate in the Games, and though Commissioner Bud Selig is supporting baseball’s bid, he has said that Major League Baseball won’t send players to the Olympics.

The federation’s leadership still feels it has a strong case to join the 2020 Games and plans to assure the IOC that it will develop a plan prior to the Olympics that allows some pros to play.

“By being combined, we’ve got a very strong message that we can pass on to the IOC, especially economically,” said Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation. “We have huge numbers of participants, television, corporate sponsors, media attention. It makes for a real strong message.”

Squash is bidding to join the Olympics for the third time. The sport, which is played in 185 countries, would add a men’s and women’s tournament with 32 players each. The sport plans to have glass courts and could share a venue with badminton, which would minimize the costs of adding it to an Olympic program.

Critics have questioned whether the Olympics needs to add another racket sport to a list that includes badminton, tennis and table tennis. But the federation dismissed that notion during the bid process and touted the sport’s ability to deliver medals to new countries by highlighting a female world champion from Malaysia and a male from Egypt.

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