BUENOS AIRES: Wrestling will be at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics after all as they completed a remarkable seven-month journey in Buenos Aires on Sunday by being voted back onto the Olympic sports roster by International Olympic Committee (IOC) members.
Wrestling, which is one of the rare sports to have transcended the ancient and modern Olympics, is very popular in Japan so Tokyo’s victory on Saturday to host the Games bolstered their standing as favorites to win.
In the event it took just one round as wrestling received 49 of the 95 votes cast.
The joint bid of baseball/softball was second with 24 votes and squash received 22.
The result sees wrestling assured of appearing at both the 2020 edition and the 2024 Summer Olympics.It marks a huge turnaround in fortunes for wrestling which was dropped from the Olympic program in February this year by the 15-person IOC Executive Board.
It sparked uproar, probably surprising several of the board members, with even bitter political enemies such as Iran and the United States seeing their wrestlers join forces to plead for it to be restored.
The same board then gave it a second chance when they put it on the three-sport shortlist—after presentations by eight sports at the end of May—to be considered by the entire IOC membership in Buenos Aires.
“It would be an understatement to say that today is the most important day in the 3,000 years of our existence,” said wrestling federation president Nenad Lalovic at the presentation.
“We have made mistakes and we have learnt from them.”
Despite some questions regarding alleged corruption within the sport, Lalovic was left beaming after the announcement by IOC President Jacques Rogge.
“With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference,” said Lalovic, who was not a wrestler himself but whose son represented Serbia at international level.
“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.”
For baseball/softball—who had among others Antonio Castro the son of the long-time Cuban leader Fidel in their presentation team—it represents another blow after being voted off the Games programme starting with the 2012 London edition.
For squash too there was 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 heart-breaking 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 Programme,” said squash federation president Narayana Ramachandran.
There had been a potentially awkward moment at the beginning of proceedings on Sunday.
Veteran Canadian IOC member Dick Pound argued perhaps it would be best to postpone the decision and look at it again in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next February.
However, Pound found little support from his fellow members and Rogge, who trounced the Canadian in the presidential election in 2001, put him firmly in his place.
“Thank you for your proposition but it is fair to say we should acknowledge that we asked eight federations originally to bid, they have incurred costs and three of them will appear later,” Rogge said.
“We should respect our decisions. When we took this one in Guatemala (2007) it was a unanimous decision with no abstentions, I emphasise this particularly there were no abstentions.”