New wrestling head says sport must reform rules to regain Olympic status
Cuba's Gustavo Balart, left, competing with South Korea's Choi Gyu-jin during 55-kg Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Aug. 5, 2012. (AP / Paul Sancya)
Published Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:42PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 23, 2013 1:39PM EST
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Wrestling needs to overhaul its often mystifying rules as the sport seeks against the odds to retain its Olympic status, according to the new interim president of the international wrestling federation.
Wrestling had itself partly to blame for the International Olympic Committee's decision to drop the sport from 2020, Nenad Lalovic told The Associated Press by phone on Saturday. Wrestling, one of the games' foundation sports, could be reinstated although it seems unlikely.
Lalovic said wrestling urgently needs more user-friendly rules that would benefit spectators, television and athletes alike.
"If an Olympic champion of 20 years ago were to attend a wrestling tournament now, he probably could not tell what is going on," Lalovic said from his headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, the seat of FILA, the international governing body.
The overtime draw -- in which a wrestler draws a colored ball to determine his or her position -- and the clinch, are just some of the chief complaints of spectators and broadcasters.
"Wrestling has become a sport purely for experts. We have to have seminars for referees before major events.
"The rules have to be clearer and the sport more attractive and spectacular. I would like a spectator to come into an area and know all the rules by the time he or she goes out."
Lalovic said he would also like to have a ranking and seeding system.
"Now, you can have the champion lose in the very first bout in the morning," he said.
At some tournaments, wrestlers can end up having as many as seven bouts in a day, way too many for his liking.
"Our first priority is to change the rules but it cannot happen overnight," he said.
He said wrestling was caught offguard by the IOC decision. The move has forced wrestling to compete with fringe sports for a spot on the 2020 program.
"It was completely unexpected for FILA," Lalovic said.
Lalovic, a Serb, became FILA's interim president one week ago, following the resignation of Raphael Martinetti at the the federation's executive committee meeting in Thailand.
While wrestling may have been the target of pressure and lobbying by other sports, Lalovic acknowledged there had been problems in the flow of information between FILA and the IOC.
No longer one of the 25 core Olympic sports in 2020, wrestling must compete with seven other contenders -- baseball and softball, squash, wakeboarding, sport climbing, roller sports and the martial arts of karate and wushu -- in lobbying to earn the last spot on the program for those games, which have yet to be awarded to a host city.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to choose which sports to propose for inclusion in 2020. The final vote will be made at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Lalovic has just returned from Moscow and said Russia was mounting opposition to the IOC's decision "in relation to the importance of wrestling in the country."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has said the country will do everything it can to help wrestling. Russia has dominated the sport in the last two decades.
Even Iran and the United States have established a rare alliance to keep wrestling Olympic despite political hostility between them.
"The Olympic spirit was born with wrestling," Lalovic said.
Wrestling was part of the games in ancient Greece and featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.