Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Wrestling regains Olympic status through 2024

After a seven-month exile, wrestling reclaimed its place on the Olympic stage Sunday, beating squash and a combined bid by baseball and softball for the lone remaining spot for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Games.

Wrestling will be included as a provisional sport, which means it will continue to have to fight for its place in the Games.

Persuaded that the ancient sport is committed to remaking itself to appeal to a more diverse, contemporary audience, a majority of International Olympic Committee delegates favored wrestling's addition in first-round balloting held in Buenos Aires.

Wrestling, one of the original Olympic sports, drew 49 votes; baseball-softball, 24; and squash, 22, after representatives of each made a 20-minute sales pitch.

Wrestling officials jumped with joy, and at least one cried when president Jacques Rogge announced that the sport had been selected, according to Nenad Lalovic, president of the sport's international governing body, which is known by the acronym FILA.

"I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now," Lalovic said in thanking IOC voters. "We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic movement that we can be."

On Feb. 12 the IOC's executive board voted to drop wrestling after the 2016 Olympics.

Insiders familiar with the workings of the politically charged IOC understood it as a rebuke to wrestling's leadership, which had shown indifference to repeated calls to revamp the sport's confounding rules and staid presentation, rather than a rejection of wrestling itself.

Officials simplified the rules, added weight classes for women and explored ways to jazz up its presentation, such as changing the color of the mats and restyling the traditional singlet. Matches will be faster and more exciting by rewarding wrestlers who are more aggressive and punishing those who remain passive. Matches will consist of two three-minute rounds now instead of three two-minute rounds.

"Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months," said Rogge, whose 12-year tenure as the IOC's president comes to an end Tuesday, when his successor will be elected. "We are happy to have wrestling on the Olympic program in 2020 and 2024."

It was a costly road back, entailing a worldwide public relations blitz and lobbying campaign to rally supporters and sway decision-makers.

The softball failure is a loss for U.S. fans, because the American team was always good. Two-time Olympian Jennie Finch, who led U.S. softball to a third consecutive gold medal in 2004 and silver in 2008, tweeted: "We will keep fighting, keep playing, keep supporting, keep growing & keep DREAMING & BELIEVING!"

Baseball and softball were dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games.

Its sales pitch stressed a worldwide fan base of 200 million, softball's global growth among girls and women and a youthful following on digital media.

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