Wrestling 'battling for its life'
Paris - Wrestling can regain its place as a core Olympic sport for the 2020 Games, the interim president of the sport's world governing body, Nenad Lalovic, told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.
But the 54-year-old Serbian said the future of the sport - one of the few to have breached the divide between the ancient and the modern Games - was at stake and it was effectively facing a battle for its survival.
The 15 members of the International Olympic Committee's executive board decided in early February that the sport should be dropped from the 2020 Games, sparking outrage among wrestlers and fans and prompting a campaign for it to be reinstated.
Lalovic, who succeeded Raphael Martinetti as head of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) in the wake of the IOC decision, said he hoped reforms proposed since then would show they had taken criticism on board.
"It is a battle for the survival of the sport," Lalovic told AFP by telephone from FILA headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. "If it's not in the Games then it will receive less money and make it hard to keep going.
"However, wrestlers never know when they are beaten and if I wasn't optimistic I wouldn't have accepted the challenge. It is a huge challenge and it is a precarious situation that we find ourselves in.
"We must do everything in our power to regain our place in the Olympics. However, I am confident that we will regain our place for 2020. There is a unified spirit among our members and a steely resolve from the national federations.
"We are a serious and competitive sport."
Lalovic, preferred by FILA members over Martinetti to spearhead an overhaul of wrestling, has already initiated several sweeping reforms, including an increase in women's participation at all levels of the sport.
He is also conducting a review of the rules of wrestling with the intent of making the sport more understandable and attractive to spectators and less dependent upon subjective officiating.
Additionally, FILA is reviewing the presentation of the sport to modernise the competition format while initiatives are also underway to boost marketing and promotion.
These will have to be approved at an extraordinary general meeting of its heads.
"We are following the advice of the IOC members about how best to reform our sport so it is suited to the present Olympic Games," said Lalovic, who held what he termed productive talks with IOC president Jacques Rogge last week.
"We are aligning our sport with the development of other sports in the IOC. However, to say and to do is one thing. It is easy to talk but you have to implement the measures.
"It is important that wrestling modernises and adapts. However, it is not just for wrestling to do those things, for all sports are in danger. Each sport must adapt because it is not easy these days to motivate a child to go out and do sports.
"They prefer to sit in front of their TV or computer and play Nintendo or other games."
Wrestling's ouster from the core Olympic programme for 2020 led to an outpouring of support, even uniting bitter political foes Iran - where the sport has a rich history dating back to the times of Persian kings - and the United States.
Lalovic said he had not been surprised at the outcry but said wrestling was at a disadvantage in preparing their presentation to the IOC executive board in St Petersburg, Russia, at the end of May.
Wrestling will have to make its case along with the seven sports hoping to replace it and it is likely that the board will recommend two or three sports to the overall IOC membership to vote on in their Congress in Buenos Aires in early September.
"Our problem is that we have less time to prepare, just two-and-a-half months, than the others who have had years to put their dossier together," said Lalovic. "We are in a race against time."
The official, though, does not blame the IOC for the predicament that wrestling finds itself in.
"We were asleep," he said. "We hadn't gone down the modernising path of development other sports had followed."