IOC Gives Wrestling Second Chance, Votes Sport Back Into Olympic Program
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 wrestling’s int'l federation (FILA) rose and pumped their fists when the votes were announced. The sport was the clear favorite coming into Sunday’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.
GETTING SUPPORT: 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, according to IOC President Jacques Rogge. 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.”
STRIKING OUT: Baseball and softball entered the day optimistic about their chances to return to the Games. Tokyo’s selection Saturday as the host for the 2020 Olympics 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 in its presentation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation even included video of Babe Ruth’s visit to Tokyo in '34. But while Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported the bid in a video, the league made no promises that it’s players would participate, and the IOC wants the best athletes in sports competing at the Games. World Baseball Softball Confederation co-President Don Porter said, “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 Tuesday, baseball and softball may get a second chance in time for Tokyo 2022. He added, “We’re not going to give up.”
SQUASHED BID: 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. In a statement, World Squash Federation President N. Ramachandran 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."
SQUARE ONE: Prior to the vote, Canadian 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.’”