Wrestling scored the equivalent of a semifinal victory Wednesday, when it was chosen as one of three sports that will be considered by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Games. But with a final vote looming in September, the sport’s leaders spent little time celebrating.
Three months after recommending that wrestling be eliminated from the Olympics, the IOC’s executive board put it at the top of its list of sports eligible to join the Olympic program in 2020. Squash and a joint bid by baseball and softball also were selected as finalists at a meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. The IOC’s general assembly will choose only one to add to the 2020 Games, and wrestling officials said Wednesday they plan to redouble their efforts to remain an Olympic sport.
Since its ouster was recommended in February, the sport has instituted rule changes to generate more action and excitement; replaced the head of its international federation; and increased the roles of women and athletes in leadership positions. Its task now is to convince the 101 voting members of the IOC that it deserves to stay in the Games.
“We’re certainly happy that we were moved on, but we also understand there is a lot of work yet to be done,’’ said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, the sport’s national governing body. “We have a big job ahead of us. I think our sport is up to the challenge.
“We will not rest until every single one of the IOC members at least hears our story. This is a competition. And one thing we do well as wrestlers is compete.’’
Wrestling won eight of 14 votes in the first round of balloting Wednesday, after eight sports made presentations to the executive board. Baseball and softball beat karate 9-5 in a head-to-head vote, and squash received eight votes in the final ballot to defeat wushu (four votes) and sport climbing (two). Roller sports and wakeboarding also were considered.
The IOC will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in early September to decide which sport to add and choose the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Jim Scherr, a former CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee who helped make Wednesday’s presentation, said representatives of wrestling plan to speak with each voting member over the next three months.
Scherr, who wrestled at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, added that the new rules and other changes were “probably 20 years overdue’’ and said they will be a highlight of the sport’s sales pitch to the IOC.
“I’m very relieved, very pleased, but this is only the first step,’’ he said. “We need to make sure [IOC members] know the strength of wrestling, the changes we’ve just made and our plans for the future, and we hope that will carry the day.’’
Dan Chandler, a three-time Olympian who coaches the Minnesota Storm club, said wrestling could get a boost from the cities bidding to host the 2020 Summer Games. Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid are the three finalists, and wrestling is among the most popular sports in both Turkey and Japan. Those countries have been part of a vigorous international effort to keep wrestling in the Olympics.
“We’re in a good position,’’ Chandler said. “Now the international federation has to iron out the wrinkles with the new rules, and we have to keep the pressure on with social media. We can’t be overconfident.’’
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.