FILA succeeded in saving the sport, and, perhaps, in preserving its own existence. There's two ways to look at this. In the first option we remain muted in our praise, after all, FILA merely cleaned up a mess that they made. Statues aren't erected for people who simply rectified their own disappointing histories.
The second option is to praise FILA effusively. After all, they effectively caused the IOC to reverse themselves, which I would guess, is not an easy task. When the new core sport program was promulgated in February, the majority of commenters took it for granted that wrestling was gone, and probably for good. FILA did not let this deter them. They got their crap together (most of it), and they actually did something truly impressive.
I recommend the second option. This occasion provides ample occasion to celebrate, to be glad, to slaughter the fattened calf for FILA, the governing body which was lost for so long, has finally returned to us. FILA may not be perfect. They never will be. But unlike before, they are now, at least, present.
Nenad Lalovic and Daniel Igali (Photo/T.R. Foley)Their presence was most keenly felt in the form of Nenad Lalovic, new FILA president, and unlikely face of the organization. I believe that just justice demands we award Lalovic the lion's share of credit for wrestling's victory, because had wrestling lost, we would have liberally heaped the blame upon his shoulders. I can't help but like Lalovich. The world of international sports governance seems full of the aloof, aristocratic, and arrogant, and while Lalovich has what it takes to walk with kings, he definitely has no lost the common touch. Also, on Sunday, he did something rarely seen be the president of any governing body: he showed humility and admitted to wrong doing on the part of his organization. Other people in positions of authority should take note of this: The word "sorry" can go a long way.
FILA is better off with Lalovich at its helm, but it is still a government, and thus will inevitably make mistakes in the future, therefore the first objective in this new era of wrestling should be the creation of safeguards to limit the scope of FILA's future missteps. These safeguards can come in three forms. First, the diffusion of power. FILA needs to delegate authority to various bodies within the organization. It appears they may be taking the first steps towards this with the creation of a referees committee. Second, they need greater transparency. I'll admit that since the IOC board decision, the workings of FILA are more visible and accessible than ever before, but they really need to put themselves in a fishbowl. Finally, Lalovic needs to know when to step down. At some point he needs to show he is a president, and not a king, and relinquish his post after an appropriate amount of time passes.
I have no doubt that FILA will make decisions in the future which I will strongly disagree with, but at least the organization has shown a some sort of democratic leanings by responding to some of the complaints of those they govern, and at least, in Lalovic, wrestling appears to have a leader who places the sport before himself.
The greatness of Daniel Igali
I feel bad for baseball/softball and squash, they've been playing the Olympic game for campaigning, schmoozing, spending money; unfortunately, their hopes were doomed in February when Jacques Rogge and his executive board proposed an Olympics without wrestling. In the end wrestling had too many advantages, and it smashed its competition, winning in the first vote, and essentially doubling the number of supporters of both its competitors.
Indulging in nothing but speculation, I would guess that Sunday's presentations to the IOC were more or less for show, and that an insignificant number of votes were up for grabs. Judging from the questions, many IOC members were pretty unhappy that wrestling found itself in its position, and that wrestling had the vote in the bag before stepping on stage.
However, if I were in the IOC, and if I were waiting to hear Sunday's presentations before deciding which sport to support, then Daniel Igali would have provided the argument which won me over.
On Sunday, Lalovich may have been wrestling's leader, but Igali was its star. Igali's story makes the most eloquent and elegant case for Olympic wrestling possible. Daniel rose from obscurity and the most crushing poverty imaginable to Olympic glory, and without wrestling, it never would have been possible. Neither of the other sports could claim this. (The very best baseball players who rise from poverty out of Latin American end up playing professionally.) Igali embodies wrestling's highest hope, and thousands more young Igali's are scattered about the globe right now waiting for a ray of this same hope. Had the Olympics spurned wrestling's bid, this ray would never shine on those who needed it.
FILA made a wise choice in using Igali as a spokesman before the IOC, stories like his make wrestling indispensable. I hope that if, years from now, wrestling ever finds itself threatened again, it can then employ hundreds of more stories like Igali's in its defense. The more people wrestling saves, the safer wrestling is.