The new wrestling
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It has reclaimed its place in the Olympics. Now it must live up to its promise to remake itself.
Outgoing International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge cited three main reasons for booting out wrestling last February: it wasn't spectator friendly; it didn't have gender equality; its administration was poor. Since then, the international wrestling federation (FILA) has worked overtime to get its house in order. It won them the desired outcome on Sunday, after wrestling easily overcame the challenge posed by baseball-softball and squash, thus regaining its place in the Olympic programme.
Wrestling, as old as the Olympics themselves, and a part of every modern Games, except in 1900, was caught off guard when it was axed by the executive board. But guardians of the game soon swung into action. FILA president, Raphael Martinetti, seen as the man who had let things drift, was forced to resign. His successor, Serbia's Nenad Lalovic, did more to revive the sport's prospects than anyone else. Lalovic and his colleagues were humble and dignified in front of the IOC on Sunday. "Wrestling is not a new sport. But the wrestling we are presenting now is new wrestling," said Lalovic, stressing that it was the most important day in the sport's 2,000-year history. In the last seven months, FILA has reworked its structure, giving women and athletes a role in decision-making. It added two weight classes for women and adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand and more fun to watch, also rewarding more aggressive wrestling in the process.
It would, however, be naive to believe that wrestling is back only because of these changes. Intense lobbying and backing from political heavyweights such as Russian president Vladimir Putin has worked for the sport in equal measure. In fact, in its bid to make an Olympic return, wrestling found unlikely allies in the US, Russia and Iran. India's sports ministry, too, led an active campaign, writing to all the members of the IOC a couple of days before its session began. By reinstating wrestling, the IOC has fixed its mistake. The onus is now on wrestling to deliver what it has promised.