After 208 days in bureaucratic purgatory and an international outcry thought to be unmatched in modern Olympic history, the 125th IOC Session reinstituted the sport on Sunday. The IOC Session, which also considered strong bids by squash and baseball/softball, voted once, and in accordance with procedure granted wrestling a provisional status in the 2020 and 2024 Games by a single vote.
Daniel Igali (Photo/T.R. Foley)Though FILA president Nenad Lalovic led the campaign and presentation from start to finish, it was Daniel Igali, a gold medalist for Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, who won over the IOC and the wrestling community.
Igali, who is now head of the Nigerian Wrestling Federation, told of his journey from one of 20 siblings growing up in Nigeria to becoming an Olympic Champion. He threaded the experience together through the prism of motivation, which for him was simply having the chance to fly on an airplane.
The Internet swooned, as wrestling's social media base responded with calls for his immediate ascension through the FILA ranks.
From T-shirt drives to a large-scale overhaul of the sport's rules and governance, the community support for the reinstatement of the wrestling in the Olympic Games played a key role in the sport's six-month campaign. From #SaveOlympicWrestling to #TakeAStance, the wrestling community was heralded for their unity by the media and FILA President Nenad Lalovic.
"We came together like never before," said the 55-year-old Serbian businessman. "Our athletes are taught to compete and we did just that."
Lalovic, who was elected to the presidency after former president Raphael Martinetti resigned in February, has garnered much of the credit for unifying the community and leading wide-scale changes to the sport's rules and governance.
Though Igali's personal story addressed the universal accessibility of the sport, at the center of the IOC's concern was gender equality. Wrestling had recently instituted a realignment of their Olympic weights from a distribution of seven for men's freestyle, seven for men's Greco-Roman, and four for women's freestyle to six for each discipline. Still, the IOC balked during the question answer after the sport's presentation with Angela Ruggiero of the United States asking about a parallel program for women.
"She was smart to ask the question," said presenter and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Carol Huynh of Canada. "I knew it was coming and I thought we've handled it well."
The perception that wrestling was "old" in the face of newer sports baseball/softball and squash dogged the Ancient Greek sport for much of the day. Claims that athletes weren't in control of their outcomes and of widespread corruption were also addressed. Lalovic, who held a brief press conference after the event unveiled the 'Wrestling World Plan" a shiny pamphlet describing the general steps wrestling will take to keep improving.
"Our new goal is to become a permanent member of the IOC. They are our only partner and we will do what every federation must and keep improving."