Wrestling Gets Second Chance, Will Remain Part Of Olympic Program After IOC Vote
Seven months after being dropped from the Olympic program, wrestling persuaded the IOC to give it a second chance. The sport received 49 votes from IOC members, giving it a first-round majority over competitors baseball and softball (24 votes) and squash (22). Representatives from FILA, wrestling’s int'l federation, rose and pumped their fists when the votes were announced. The sport was the clear favorite coming into yesterday's vote, but its federation had to answer more than a half dozen questions from IOC members about everything from alleged corruption to gender equality. FILA President Nenad Lalovic said, “Wrestling has changed. Wrestling has become a modernized sport ready to compete with other sports. We persuaded the IOC members our improved sport will support the Olympic movement.” The decision provides wrestling’s federation with a minimum of $14M that the IOC distributes to Olympic sports and gives it the credibility and int'l broadcast exposure that can be used to attract new participants and business partners. IOC President Jacques Rogge said wrestling was bounced from the Olympic program last February because the IOC Exec Board found its governance “inadequate,” its rules difficult to understand and some of its disciplines unpopular. FILA spent the last seven months addressing those concerns. It named a new president, added two weight classes for women and changed its scoring system to award more points during competition. Its campaign to return to the Olympic program benefitted from support in Russia and the U.S., which often win medals in the sport. All of that combined with a general belief among IOC members that wrestling belongs in the Olympics helped it garner enough votes to stay in the Games. Prior to the vote, Kuwait IOC member Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said, “There was a mistake. This mistake made wrestling out of the program. Wrestling is the founder of the Games.”
DEFEATED SPORTS CONTEMPLATE FUTURE: Baseball/softball entered the day optimistic about its chances to return to the Games. Tokyo’s selection as the host for the '20 Games meant that there would be no need to develop stadiums to host either sport, and the sports’ popularity there meant that ticket sales would be strong. In a video during their presentation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation even included footage of Babe Ruth’s visit to Tokyo in 1934. But while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig supported the bid in the video, the league made no promises that its players would participate, and the IOC wants the best athletes in sports competing at the Games. WBSC co-President Don Porter: “We’re disappointed, certainly. We understood it was an uphill battle. Wrestling is a great sport, and I’m sure it deserves to be back in. I don’t think there’s anything more we could have done. It just wasn’t our time.” Porter said that he was holding out hope that with a new IOC president, who will be named tomorrow, baseball and softball may get a second chance in time for Tokyo. He added, “We’re not going to give up.” Squash was bidding to join the Olympics for the third time. The sport touted the fact that it is played in 185 countries and would be able to share a venue with badminton, which would minimize the costs of adding it to the Olympic program. But it did not have enough support to get past wrestling. World Squash Federation President N Ramachandran in a statement described the decision as “heartbreaking.” He added, “As the only new Olympic sport on today’s shortlist, we believed Squash offered something for the future and I still hope that our inclusion may still be possible. ... We have much to offer the Olympic Movement and I am hopeful that today is not the end of our Olympic journey."
EFFORT TO POSTPONE VOTE DENIED: Prior to the vote, Canada IOC member Dick Pound tried to persuade his colleagues to postpone the decision. Pound argued that if wrestling were added back to the program, then baseball/softball, squash and six other new sports that wanted to join the Olympics competed for no reason. They were put “through unnecessary hardship” for the IOC to ultimately keep its program the same. He asked IOC members to postpone the vote and review its process for selecting new sports. Rogge urged members to go through with the vote, and Pound’s effort was defeated. Afterward Pound said, “It’s very disappointing. Observers will say, ‘After all that, we’re back to where we were in London and you put eight federations through all of this.’”
SCHERR EXCITED ABOUT RETURN: Former USOC CEO and Olympic wrestler Jim Scherr led off FILA's presentation to the IOC. He was among the group that erupted and pumped its fists the moment after Rogge announced that wrestling received enough votes to stay in the Olympics. Scherr this morning discuss wrestling's effort to retain its spot in the Olympics.
Q: What did this do for wrestling?
Scherr: It's made significant change of people in leadership positions, the structure of governance, the rules and general excitement of the sport. But probably the single thing it did more than anything else is there's more worldwide interest and coverage of Olympic wrestling in the last seven months than there's been in the last 25 years.
Q: How does wrestling build on that interest?
Scherr: There were tens of millions of people around the world following this process. Wrestling needs to create a platform that can reach them. A multilingual and layered media platform underpinned with a sponsorship program. Whatever content they have and developed content they need to get out on broadcast and digital. They need to get that to the masses and do it fast because they don't have a big window to do it.
Q: How much infrastructure is in place now?
Scherr: It's very limited. They weren't geared for this stuff before in the federation.
Q: What message does this process send to other sports federations?
Scherr: Every federation but a couple now feels like they could be in the same situation that wrestling (was in). The (international federations) will all be on their toes a little bit because of this process.
Q: What is next for you with wrestling?
Scherr: I'm on the (FILA) executive board for the next year and a half and will stay involved that way. Within the U.S., I hope to be involved in helping USA Wrestling do the same thing, which is work on the presentation of the sport, work on creating a media platform and work on selling that platform. I'd like to help with that in an advisory capacity.
Tripp Mickle is in Buenos Aires reporting and tweeting from the IOC meetings. Look for continued posts from him on our On The Ground blog.