May 29, 2013
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The International Olympic Committee made a decision in February that threatened the life of the international wrestling community. On Wednesday, the same group thought twice before completely pulling the plug.
Wrestling was among three sports to advance to the final round of voting following Wednesday’s recommendation by the IOC Executive Board. The IOC heard pleas for inclusion from eight sports in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the end of the day wrestling, squash, and a combined bid from softball/baseball were selected as the three sports vying for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program.
“I’m not overjoyed. It’s part of the process,” said former Hawkeye coach and 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist Dan Gable. “By overjoyed I mean if we wouldn’t have been one of the three we wouldn’t be completely done. We’d still have a chance to get a vote by the general assembly, but we’d have to win a special vote at the end.”
“There’s a lot of work to do,” said UI head coach and 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Tom Brands. “I think our wrestling strategy is probably going to change a little bit now. The first step was to get into this round, and now it’s to rise above the group.”
FILA, the governing body of international wrestling, made a 20-minute presentation to the IOC Executive Board to make its case for reinstatement in the Olympic Games. Nenad Lalovic, the newly elected President of FILA, said he felt optimistic following the meeting. Not long after the IOC confirmed his impression, selecting wrestling over karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
“This tells us we are doing some good things,” added Gable. “Now it’s important you don’t let up. You must realize that some of these sports have been working for a long time. Squash has really been doing their homework, and because of that they are probably politically doing a better job than we are because we just started doing this three months ago.”
Since the Feb. 12 decision to drop wrestling as one of its core sports, the IOC has challenged FILA to make progressive changes to its perceived arrogance. FILA responded by ousting former president Raphael Martinetti, expanding the role of women and female athletes in the sport, and modifying the rules to make wrestling more dynamic and comprehensible to a larger audience.
“The rules changes have really brought us together,” said Gable, “and it’s the first time that we’ve actually thought about the total sport instead of which rule is good for which country.”
Wrestling now has just over four months to strengthen its case before the IOC General Assembly votes on the final sport for inclusion Sept. 8 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We have to keep being what I call a crackerjack,” said Brands. “What that means is we have to keep skewing or defining the curve in an unbelievably positive and professional way to get through to the IOC.
“There may be a couple different options, but we don’t want to leave anything to chance. We have to continue to be diplomatic, do things right, and enhance the improvements that we’ve made. We need to keep showing the IOC that we’re in line with their way of thinking and their philosophies.”