Wrestling completed an unprecedented Olympic comeback on Sunday, reclaiming its spot in the 2020 Olympic Games after beating bids from rivals squash and baseball/softball in an International Olympic Committee vote.
An iconic Olympic sport, wrestling featured in the ancient Olympics as well as every modern Games apart from 1900.
Yet it surprisingly lost its Olympic spot in February as the IOC looked to refresh its sports programme.
It is the first sport to earn back its Olympic place immediately, with all other returning events taking years or decades to make a comeback.
It was a question of our survival. We did all we could, we changed our sport and the federation was successful. We continue to work tomorrow.
“Normally this is done in a few years, we did it in a few months. It was a question of our survival,” a delighted international wrestling federation (FILA) president Nenad Lalovic told reporters.
“We did all we could, we changed our sport and the federation was successful. We continue to work tomorrow.”
Lalovic had said in his presentation to the IOC prior to the vote that “today is the most important day in the 3000-year history of our sport”.
The burly Serb had taken over in February after their Olympic exit and had been credited with bringing the sport back into contention after wrestling made a shortlist of candidate sports in May.
“With this vote, you (the IOC) have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference. I assure each of you that our modernisation will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic Movement that we can be.”
Sunday’s result marks a sensational turnaround for the sport which overhauled its rules, administration, gender equality and operations following its shock exclusion.
The IOC had said at the time, wrestling had failed to modernise, becoming complacent over decades amid waning interest.
“It was clear the IOC Executive Board made a mistake by getting rid of it,” IOC member Richard Pound told Reuters Television.
“Today we corrected that mistake.”
Wrestling, which had received glowing support from IOC members, who were stunned by the Executive Board’s decision, won an outright majority of votes in the first round.
“Now we must remain united to make certain we live up to the expectations that have been placed on all of us by virtue of this vote,” Lalovic said.
The sport got 49 of 95 votes, with baseball/softball earning 24 and squash landing 22 votes from the IOC members.
The result was crushing news for both of the others sports that have been trying to win a spot in the Games for as much as a decade.
Baseball and softball, Olympic sports until the 2008 Beijing Games, hoped for a return to the Olympic fold.
“In my country Cuba, it is the top sport and the cement of a social tradition,” baseball/softball delegation member Antonio Castro, son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, had earlier told the IOC in a presentation.
Squash, the only one of the three never to have featured in the Olympics, was making its third consecutive bid after failures in 2005 and 2009.
“It is disappointing but what we’ve done over the last few years, with the campaign… has brought the whole squash community together in a huge way,” said world number one Nicol David, who was part of the campaign to get the sport into the Olympics.
“We’ve proven that we can be up there as an Olympic sport and the fact that we were shortlisted shows what a great sport we are. We need to use that and move forward.”