IOC plays down dropping wrestling exit after global uproar, India to lobby for restoration

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February 13, 2013

LAUSANNE/MUMBAI: The surprise recommendation to drop wrestling from the Olympics has angered athletes, officials and fans around the world and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) played down the finality of its decision on Wednesday.

February 13, 2013

LAUSANNE/MUMBAI: The surprise recommendation to drop wrestling from the Olympics has angered athletes, officials and fans around the world and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) played down the finality of its decision on Wednesday.

The IOC's 15-member executive board voted on Tuesday to recommend that the sport be dropped from the 2020 Olympic programme, with a final decision resting with the IOC session in September in Buenos Aires.

The vote prompted an instant wave of protest and anger from the sport's global community with the international federation ( FILA) calling it an aberration, petitions launched with the United States White House and on-line wrestling support groups signing up thousands of supporters.

India's government said on Wednesday it would seek the support of other countries where wrestling is popular to help the sport remain an Olympic discipline.

"These reactions, they are quite normal," IOC vice-president Thomas Bach told reporters. "This would have happened with any decision. You have to find the right balance between tradition and progress. This was a decision about core sports and nothing more," he said of Tuesday's vote that cut the core Olympic sports from 26 to 25, leaving out wrestling.

"I am happy about FILA's reaction, to draw up a plan to act. That is the right way. Keep in mind a final decision has not yet been taken. If they (FILA) continue like that they will win a lot of sympathies," said Bach, a potential presidential candidate later this year.

The IOC's executive board will decide in St Petersburg in May to decide which of eight candidate sports, including wrestling, will be put forward to win the spot left vacant for the 2020 Games.

Painful decision

It will then put its recommendation for the 25 core sports and the new entry to a vote at its session in Argentina.

"It was always going to be a painful decision," said IOC member and head of the organization’s finance commission Richard Carrion, also a potential presidential candidate.

"No matter what we do, it will be criticized by someone," said Puerto Rican Carrion, whose country won a silver medal in wrestling at the London 2012 Olympics, one of two medals overall.

"From a personal point of view I am sad. I have become attached to the wrestling club (in Puerto Rico) which doesn't even have a regulation-size mat and still managed to send three athletes to the Games."

For Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, who is both an executive board member and a modern pentathlon vice-president, the decision was a good one.

"I am very sorry for wrestling as it is a sport I respect," the son of former IOC president Samaranch, told reporters.

"I cannot be surprised by the reaction because any sport would have created the same reaction."

Wrestling's surprise exit has been blamed by some on a lack of political support within the executive board, where other sports at risk — including modern pentathlon and taekwondo — had the upper hand with representatives in the 15-member group.

Asked whether his double capacity was a conflict of interest, Samaranch said: "I am here in my capacity as executive board member."

India to lobby

India's government will seek the support of other countries where wrestling is popular to help the sport remain an Olympic discipline, the country's sports ministry said on Wednesday.

Wrestling was stunned when the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Executive Board made a surprise recommendation on Tuesday to drop the sport from the 2020 Games.

Part of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and all further editions of the Games, wrestling has now joined seven other candidate sports battling for one spot in a revamped programme.

India has won four Olympic wrestling medals and the country's government termed the IOC decision "most unfortunate and shocking".

"This ancient sport has helped the Indian grapplers to make a mark and bring India on the global sporting map," the Indian sports ministry said in a statement.

"Wrestling is a popular sport not only in India but also in many other countries such as Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Japan, China etc.

"The exclusion of the discipline from the Olympics will demoralize the sport's participants and will deeply affect the sustenance of the game in the future."

Popular sport

The Indian government said it would raise the issue with the IOC and hoped the sport could find its way back as a core Olympic discipline.

"Ministry … will also take up the issue with other nations where wrestling is a popular sport," the statement added.

"The ministry will take up the issue with the IOC to reconsider its decision and retain wrestling in the category of core sports in the Olympic Games."

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA), banned by the IOC in December due to government interference in its elections, said the move will demoralize youngsters who took up the sport after the country's good showing at the London Olympics.

Two of India's overall total of six medals at last year's Games came in wrestling with Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Sushil Kumar going one better by winning silver in the 66kg freestyle and Yogeshwar Dutt claiming the 60kg freestyle bronze.

"Wrestling is part of Indian sporting folklore. It is a very popular sport in the over one-billion strong country," said the statement from Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the IOA's acting president.

"The recent good showing by the Indian and other Asian wrestlers in the Olympics has boosted this sport in the region and thousands of youngsters have taken to it and removing it from the Olympic programme will do immense harm to the sports and will de-motivate and demoralize these youngsters."


Courtesy: Reuters