x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wrestling chief Lalovic thrilled with Olympics inclusion, but work goes on

Representatives of baseball/softball and squash, who failed to convince IOC for inclusions into 2020 and 2024 Games, are disappointed but will continue pursuit.

Nenad Lalovic, right, the Wrestling Federation president, and Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vault legend, celebrate the re-inclusion of wrestling into the Olympics. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
Nenad Lalovic, right, the Wrestling Federation president, and Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vault legend, celebrate the re-inclusion of wrestling into the Olympics. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Nenad Lalovic, the Wrestling Federation president, refused to bask in the glory of his successful and inspirational seven-month campaign to restore the sport to the Olympic Games roster on Sunday, saying there was lots of work still to be done.

The genial and charismatic Serbian, more a yachtsman than a wrestler though his son represented Serbia in the sport, was speaking after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members had voted to put it back on the programme for the Tokyo 2020 Games and the 2024 edition.

Wrestling – of the few sports to have transcended the gap between the ancient and modern Games – won in the first round receiving 49 of the 95 votes cast.

The joint bid of baseball/softball was second with 24 votes and squash received 22.

Lalovic has led a vigorous campaign introducing a series of sweeping reforms both technical and on the administrative level since he was elected after his predecessor paid the price for their humiliating dropping from the programme by the IOC's executive board in February.

Lalovic, who has made it more TV friendly and changed the rules so aggressive rather than passive wrestling is rewarded, had emphasised to the IOC members at the beginning of the presentation how important a day it was for him and the sport.

"It would be an understatement to say that today is the most important day in the 3,000 years of our existence," he said.

"We have made mistakes and we have learnt from them."

Afterwards Lalovic said that the reforms would continue unabated.

"Every sport has to update their sport every day otherwise they will die," he said.

"We cannot stop. Today we are happy but tomorrow we work again.

"We did this in seven months what we have to do in the next three to four years is no different.

"We have to move forward. We have to show the changes we made and also where we want to be in four years."

Lalovic rejected the suggestion that wrestling being restored to the programme contradicted the original concept of only new sports being brought onto the roster while others were voted off.

"This is a new wrestling, the other sports are new sports for the Olympic programme," he said.

"We have updated our sport by introducing new understandable rules which was the only way to reform wrestling."

Lalovic, who had said prior to the vote if wrestling lost he feared not only for the future of the sport but also of social problems in the poorer countries where it is a tradition to wrestle, said curtly he had not appreciated the executive board's decision to vote them off.

"No I did not. The job was to modernise our sport and reform our federation," he said.

"We finally found we can change and this is the most valuable experience from this journey if one can call it that."

Baseball/softball to try again

Baseball and softball have vowed to make another pitch to be readmitted to the Olympics after striking out on Sunday.

Riccardo Fraccari, the president of the International Baseball Federation, told Reuters that baseball and softball were not giving up hope of getting back in the Olympics.

"Congratulations to wrestling and Fila [International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles]. It's an honour to have presented before the IOC, alongside great competitors like squash and wrestling," Fraccari said.

"The WBSC will continue working hard and will continue listening and learning from the IOC, so that baseball and softball can come under the Olympic umbrella to serve and strengthen the Olympic Movement, as our sport expands and globalises further."

"While we are obviously disappointed with the decision of the International Olympic Committee to not move forward with baseball and softball for inclusion on the Olympic program in 2020, we continue to believe the combined efforts of baseball and softball provide a great platform for international competition," Paul Seiler, the USA Baseball executive director, said in a statement.

"USA Baseball will continue to promote baseball and softball both internationally and domestically through our various initiatives, and we look forward to the opportunity to return to the Olympic programme in the future."

The IOC has never specified exactly why the sports were dropped, the most commonly cited reasons are baseball's refusal to comply with all the World Anti-Doping Agency rules and the absence of Major League Baseball players from the Olympics.

However, with MLB recently cracking down on doping, suspending more than a dozen players linked to the Biogenesis scandal, and pledging their support to the Olympic movement, baseball-softball remain optimistic of a recall.

Squash champion disappointed

Nicol David, the Malaysian world No 1, said she was disappointed squash had failed to make it into the 2020 Olympics but said the sport's bid for inclusion in the Games had raised its profile.

"It's disappointing that squash missed out today but our @Vote4Squash campaign has brought the squash world closer and stronger in every way," David said on her Facebook page.

"[We've] proven we can be up there as an Olympic sport because we were shortlisted," she said separately in a video uploaded to YouTube following the IOC decision.

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