Wrestling has Olympic spot within grasp

Wrestling officials played down an official reprimand and added some Hollywood glitz to their campaign to get the sport back into the 2020 Olympics with support from American actor William Baldwin.

Mi Gyong Choe (red) of DPR Korea and Monika Ewa Michalik of Poland during their freestyle 63kg tussle at the London Olympics last year. Photograph: Chris McGrath /Getty

Wrestling was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee for breaking campaigning rules last month when Japan wrestling officials contacted IOC members by mail to support the bid after a set deadline.

“We were the first to notice it and immediately informed the IOC,” international federation (FILA) president Nenad Lalovic said.

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“We were informed by the IOC that the issue is closed now and that we reacted in the right way.”

Wrestling lost its Olympic spot in February before making it back to a shortlist, along with squash and softball/baseball, in May. The IOC will select the winning bid today at a meeting in Argentina.

Wrestling featured in the ancient Games as well as every modern edition apart from 1900 and February’s exclusion triggered a wave of wide-reaching administrative, rule and sporting changes.

“It was a journey over troubled waters but we now see the port, the harbour,” said Lalovic, who took over after the sport’s shock exclusion and has been credited with turning its fortunes around quickly.

Wrestling is now seen as the favourite and the changes have earned it a thumbs-up from several top IOC members.

The other two sports in contention have not garnered the same glowing support from the Olympic movement. Wrestling also benefited from a wave of backing from the sport’s powerhouses, including the United States, Russia and Iran, as well as senior politicians in many countries, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Asked whether wrestling’s Olympic background and funding gave them an advantage over their rivals, Lalovic said: “Maybe we have a little advantage but they had four years to prepare their bid whereas we had just a few months.”

“We have less experience in bidding as it is the first time in 3,000 years that we are bidding,” Lalovic added.

Actor and producer Baldwin, a long-time wrestler, patiently waited on the sidelines before being mobbed by dozens of media crews after the news conference.

“I have wrestled my entire life and I have always been involved in the sport,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial for the sport to return to the Games and it would be a gift from the IOC to bring wrestling back to the Games.”