BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – With the IOC fixing what it admits was a big mistake, wrestling returned to the Olympic fold Sunday after seven months in limbo and promised to do what it takes to keep its place for the long run.
Presenting new leadership and a revamped sport, wrestling easily defeated bids from baseball-softball and squash to secure a spot in the program for the 2020 and 2024 Games.
The result capped a frantic six-month campaign by the wrestling body FILA to save its Olympic status after the IOC executive board surprisingly cut it from the list of core sports in February.
“We are aware of our mistakes and they will not happen again,” FILA President Nenad Lalovic said. “This crisis gave us the strength to change and we finally found out that we can change. This was the most valuable experience of all of this journey.”
Wrestling received 49 votes to win in the first round of the secret balloting by the International Olympic Committee. Baseball-softball got 24 votes and squash 22.
“Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said. “They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport.”
The vote followed final presentations by all three sports, with Lalovic calling it “the most important day in the 2,000-year history of our sport.”
Wrestling’s reinstatement appeared virtually assured for months after IOC members acknowledged that the executive board erred by cutting the sport in the first place.
“I think what happened was what most people thought, that the previous decision was wrong,” Puerto Rican member and presidential candidate Richard Carrion said.
Wrestling goes back to the ancient Olympics in Greece and has been on the program of every modern games except 1900. The sport was caught off guard when it was axed by the board – a decision that surprised even most IOC members.
Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president within days of the IOC vote and was replaced by Lalovic.
FILA reworked 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.
Powerful countries and unlikely political allies like the United States, Iran and Russia threw their weight behind the campaign.
“Wrestling is not a new sport,” Lalovic said. “But the wrestling we are presenting now is a new wrestling.”
Wrestling was approved by the IOC on Sunday as an “additional sport” for 2020 and 2024. FILA’s goal now is win back a place in the list of 25 “core” sports.
The sport had not been cut for the 2016 games.