Wrestling received a majority of the votes with 49, followed by a joint bid by baseball and softball getting 24 votes and squash with 22.
“Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said. “They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport.”
In its presentation, wrestling was quick to stake its position as a sport of the future, not the ancient past. “Wrestling is new in virtually every way,” said Jim Scherr, a former wrestler and ex-CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
FILA president Nenad Lalovic said wrestling leaders weren’t allowed to watch the other presentations because of IOC rules. “But we heard our presentation was the best and the most emotional,” Lalovic said. “The burden we carried on our back was much bigger than the other sports have. We were fighting to survive.”
After wrestling was unexpectedly axed from the program in February, the international governing body ( FILA) made significant changes. It elected a new president, included more women in decision-making roles and adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand.
“The rule changes have made it more exciting to watch,” said Canadian Olympic champion Daniel Igali, who runs the Nigerian wrestling federation. He noted that scoring has been doubled, competitors who wrestle offensively are now rewarded more, leading to fewer clinches.
Before the 2016 Games, wrestling’s makeover will include a few tricks borrowed from the MMA world (perhaps no more singlets, the addition of music, lighting, visual effects) to make the sport more entertaining. Lalovic also said Friday the sport will bid adios to its red mat because network execs say it doesn’t look good on TV.
The exercise was understandably frustrating, and futile for baseball/softball and squash. Politics, as well as wrestling’s initial inertia, are to blame.
The obscure sport of modern pentathlon was expected to be cut in February, but a strong lobbying effort by board member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., an executive with the modern pentathlon federation and son of a former IOC president, helped save the sport from elimination.
ELECTION: Tokyo will host 2020 Games
For softball, it was a particularly crushing blow. Baseball has top pro leagues around the world, the World Series, the World Baseball Classic. Softball had the Olympic