BUENOS AIRES: Wrestling, as expected, regained its place on the Olympic Games sports roster after a vote by International Olympic Committee (IOC) members in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
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 sees wrestling assured of appearing at both the 2020 – which is to be hosted by Tokyo – and the 2024 Summer Olympics.
It marks a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for wrestling which was dropped from the Olympic programme in February this year by the 15-person IOC Executive Board but which provoked an unprecedented backlash.
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.
Nenad Lalovic, who has led the sweeping reforms and campaign since he was installed as president after his predecessor was forced out because of the humiliation of being dropped, had told the members in Sunday’s presentation how important the decision would be for the sport.
“It would be an understatement to say that today is the most important day in the 3,000 years of our existence,” said the Serbian.
“We have made mistakes and we have learnt from them.”
Lalovic and his team gave a great roar when they heard the result announced by IOC President Jacques Rogge, and he then said that it would be a decision the IOC would not regret.
“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.
“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.”
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 will 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 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.
“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.”
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