Wrestling out to rebuild image
Vevey, Switzerland - Fighting to retain wrestling's Olympic status, the sport's governing body plans to meet in Turkey within weeks to elect a president and press for modernising changes required by the IOC.
The gathering of up to 177 members of FILA is seen as essential to helping rebuild wrestling's image after a shock recommendation by the IOC executive board two weeks ago to cut the founding Olympic sport from the 2020 Games.
"We have to show the IOC that we can reconstruct our house," Nenad Lalovic, FILA's acting head and the leading election candidate, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Serbian official is steering wrestling's campaign after 11-year incumbent president Raphael Martinetti resigned in the fallout from the move by the International Olympic Committee.
When FILA meets, it will aim to give athletes a bigger role in the running of the sport and to appoint more women to its decision-making board.
Russian great Alexander Karelin, a three-time Olympic champion, is expected to taking a central role in the revamped FILA.
To make wrestling more viewer-friendly, FILA is meanwhile working with IOC sports officials to improve competition rules - with "minor" tweaks in freestyle, but "major changes" in Greco-Roman.
The current target is to introduce the changes in competitions during 2014, well before the qualifying events for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
"We know the problems we have in our house and we're solving them efficiently," Lalovic said.
Lalovic set a target of "late-April, early-May" for the election session, with Turkey being the preferred venue if the IOC ethics commission approves.
Anxious to avoid a conflict of interest, FILA and Turkish officials will ask for permission to meet there while Istanbul is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics in a contest with Tokyo and Madrid.
"We don't want to be accused later (of doing) things we're not entitled to do," Lalovic said.
After stepping up to the top job, with strong backing from Russian officials at a FILA board meeting, Lalovic expects few candidates for the presidency.
"It's very difficult to accept this position in this moment," he said, adding with wry humour: "It's a kind of suicide mission."
Lalovic, who has moved from Belgrade to FILA's Swiss base in Vevey, is now focused on a March 7 meeting with IOC President Jacques Rogge at its headquarters around away in Lausanne.
"This meeting is first on the priority list," said Lalovic, who will explain FILA's strategy to win back trust from the Olympic community.
Rogge did not vote in the February 12 board session which targeted wrestling for exclusion.
The IOC board next meets May 29-31 in St Petersburg, Russia, to choose a shortlist of sports to propose for inclusion in 2020.
Wrestling is now competing with a combined bid of baseball and softball, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding, and the martial arts of karate and wushu.
Lalovic said FILA declined offers from St Petersburg and Moscow to host the election.
"Russia is very supportive, I believe that Mr Putin is too," he said of the state president. "It is maybe too aggressive because this (IOC) executive board meeting will held in Russia."
If selected on the IOC shortlist, the final choice will be made by 100-plus IOC members at their annual assembly, on September 7-10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The 2020 host city will also be chosen.
Lalovic acknowledges that supporters of Istanbul and Tokyo will be aware of the popularity of wrestling there.
"How do you imagine an Istanbul Olympic Games without wrestling? It's very uncomfortable for the organizer and their public," he said, noting that Japan's four gold medals, and six overall in wrestling, was beaten only by Russia at the 2012 London Games.
"We have a big crisis, of course," Lalovic acknowledged. "But the games are not finished."