Wrestling, baseball/softball keep Olympic hopes

Wrestling got a reprieve.

Baseball and softball are getting another chance.

And squash also is in play.

That was the outcome of Wednesday’s decision by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board on which sports remain under consideration for the one open spot on the 2020 Summer Games program.

The entire IOC membership will make the final decision at the IOC annual session in September in Buenos Aires.

Meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, the 15-member executive board chose wrestling, baseball/softball and squash from the eight candidate sports in secret ballots. Nine ballots were needed.

Karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and Chinese martial art wushu did not make the cut.  The elimination of karate and wushu seemed to indicate there are enough similar sports (judo and taekwondo) already on the program.

The idea of combining baseball and softball into a single candidature is a success as of now.

Wrestling, on the program since the ancient OIympics, has made extraordinary efforts to keep its place since the executive board’s stunning recommendation in February that the sport be dropped after the 2016 Summer Games.

Those efforts included dumping the international wrestling federation (FILA) president, regarded as an intransigent dictator, and enacting a series of rules changes May 18 in an effort to make the sport more attractive and comprehensible to live spectators and especially TV audiences.

IOC President Jacques Rogge gave wrestling’s moves a strong endorsement in an interview with the Associated Press, laying the ground work for the executive board to reverse its earlier decision.

``I think they had the good answer and the good reaction,” Rogge said.  ``They obviously were taken a bit by a surprise by the fact they could leave the core group."

In a statement following the decision, new FILA president Nenad Lalovic of Serbia said, ``While our place in the Olympic Games is still not guaranteed, this decision recognizes the great lengths to which we are going to reform our sport and address the IOC’s concerns."

Baseball and softball not only formed a single international federation, the World Baseball Softball Conderation, but approved significant changes in their Olympic tournaments to make them fit better into IOC guidelines on reducing the numbers of athletes and the cost of venues.

Each tournament would be be shortened to six days and played successively rather than concurrently, so only one venue would be needed.  In 2008, baseball lasted 11 days, softball nine.

"Today was a good decision for wrestling, but now the real work begins," said 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Bill Scherr, chairman of the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling.

Wrestling and baseball/ softball may face resistance in the September voting from those who feel the whole point of reviewing the Olympic program was to add a new sport.

As the IOC puts it, "In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic program commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games."

The IOC has set a limit of 28 sports and decided in 2007 to identify 25 of them as “core sports.”

After the IOC members voted baseball and softball off the program beginning in 2012, there were 26 sports at last summer’s London Games.  Baseball became part of the Olympics in 1992, softball in 1996. 

The executive board trimmed that to a core group of 25 by eliminating wrestling, which remains on the program at least through the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Golf and rugby sevens join the Olympic program as “non-core” sports in 2016, bringing the total to 28 in Rio.  Their status will be re-evaluated after the 2020 Summer Games.

Since the executive board put forward three sports, the vote in Buenos Aires almost certainly would be similar to that for Olympic host cities, with rounds of votes until one sport achieves a majority and, if none is achieved in the first round, the sport with the lowest total dropped after that round.

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