(AP) Wrestling boss: IOC vote was ‘shock therapy’
By STEPHEN WILSON
AP Sports Writer
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
Nenad Lalovic remembers the phone call from a friend seven months ago: Wrestling was being dropped from the Olympics.
It wasn’t. The IOC executive board in February recommended removing wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, a hammer blow that the sport’s leaders never saw coming.
Now, Lalovic is in Buenos Aires as president of a new-look FILA, wrestling’s governing body, and leading its final push to save its Olympic status, culminating a frantic six-month campaign that has reshaped the sport.
The International Olympic Committee will vote Sunday on including one additional sport to the program of the 2020 and 2024 Games. Wrestling is up against squash and a combined baseball-softball bid.
Barring a major surprise, wrestling looks set to keep its Olympic place.
In the meantime, the burly, chain-smoking Serb has been working the lobby of the IOC hotel, continuing to make wrestling’s case. Leaders of the baseball-softball and squash federations are fighting to keep in the hunt.
Squash federation chief N. Ramachandran believes the final presentations before the vote will be crucial.
After the IOC’s stunning decision in February, Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president and was replaced by Lalovic. The Serb said it became clear that FILA had failed to modernize the sport and had fallen out of touch with the IOC.
FILA revamped its structure, giving women and athletes a role in decision making. It added two weight classes for women. It adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand and more fun to watch, and reward more aggressive wrestling.
Meanwhile, powerful countries and unlikely political allies like the United States, Iran and Russia threw their weight behind the campaign.
Squash is trying for a third time to make the Olympic program. Women’s softball and men’s baseball were dropped by the IOC from the program following the 2008 Beijing Games. After failing in separate bids for reinstatement, they merged into a single federation this time to improve their chances.
If wrestling wins Sunday’s vote, it will mean no new sport is added to the program, defeating the original purpose of the process.
Lalovic has some sympathy for the two other contenders, whose chances took a huge blow when wrestling made the shortlist from eight sports in May. But Lalovic said wrestling has more at stake than the others, contending that losing a spot in the Olympics is worse than failing to win one.
Whatever happens on Sunday, Lalovic said, the “revolution” in wrestling is far from over.