Tokyo win could boost wrestling Olympics bid

Tokyo win could boost wrestling Olympics bid

BUENOS - The International Olympic Committee (IOC), fresh from choosing Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, must next choose on Sunday between wrestling, baseball/softball and squash to fill the final sports slot left vacant for those Games.

The choice of Tokyo was seen as the IOC's preference for a "safe pair of hands" to run the Games, which could augur well for the traditional sport of wrestling, at which Japan has excelled in the past.

Baseball, however, is also hugely popular in the country and its supporters will hope that factor can help to propel them back into the Olympic fold for the first time since 2008.

Wrestling came into Buenos Aires as the firm favourites to complete a remarkable recovery and regain their place on the Olympic Games sports roster for the 2020 Summer Games.

One of the few sports to have bridged the gap between the ancient and modern Olympics, the sport has been through a mini revolution since the 15-person Executive Board (EB) of the IOC shocked many by voting it off at a meeting in February.

It sparked uproar, probably surprising several of the EB 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.

Much of the credit for wrestling still having the chance of regaining its place lies with Serbian Nenad Lalovic, the man who was elected president of the federation after the previous incumbent was ejected following the EB decision.

Lalovic a genial larger than life character has engineered the reforms that have seen it become more TV friendly and also the bouts to reward aggressive wrestling rather than the passive style that may have won people medals before but was not sparkling entertainment.

Lalovic, more a yachtsman than a wrestler but whose son represented Serbia at wrestling, realises what is at stake for his sport in the vote.

"What I am hearing makes me optimistic but a vote is another matter," he said.

"We will be much more disappointed than them (squash and softball/baseball) if we go out.

"We will be in big, big trouble. Wrestling is not just a sport, it is a tradition in lots of countries.

"In some of those countries, the poorest ones, I fear there could be social problems," he added.

Squash has fought a 10 year battle -- in 2005 they topped the list to be part of the Games but failed because they didn't have the required two thirds majority which has been replaced by a simple majority now.

The federation's Indian president Narayana Ramachandran accepts that things maybe didn't fall their way when wrestling was ejected -- modern pentathlon would have given them a stronger chance -- but insisted he hadn't given up all hope.

"I am an eternal optimist, he told AFP.

"Sport is sport, I'm not involved in the politics. We will put our best foot forward and show it in its best light. If we lose we will accept it with humility."

Baseball/softball have faced an uphill battle throughout but have fielded the person with the most name recognition among the three sports in federation vice-president Antonio Castro, son of longtime Cuban leader Fidel.

Antonio Castro, who ironically became an orthopaedic surgeon after his nascent baseball career was cut short by a knee injury, said it was crucial to the people of Cuba that they returned to the Games.

"Baseball in Cuba is the pinnacle of the the sporting pyramid, it is part of the social foundation with all the people playing as a team.

"For the social system sport is very important."

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