WHY WRESTLING WON: Dollars & Diplomacy
Wrestling, historically a core sport, whose elimination by the Executive Board of IOC, caused much consternation in the wrestling world and surprise in the global world of sport. While many thought that its historic role and worldwide support would be sufficient, the leaders of the wrestling world heeded the informal advice of many IOC members: their product had grown stale, too much was taken for granted.
As these attached stories illustrate, the wrestling community its leadership and its rules; more it catered to en expressed desire of IOC leaders to include more women (softball, by teaming with baseball, diluted that core aspect by involving as many men as women).
More, the wrestling community mounted an extensive, well-funded campaign, and virtually targeted every IOC member. Softball and baseball confederation issued a thick sheaf of releases, but failed to address IOC concerns about MLB commitment and expanding the role of women. While it is perhaps unfair to say that softball stood pat, their effort was minimalist compared to wrestling.
There are indications of possible renewed opportunities to include softball in the 2020 Olympiad. The IOC has previously approved a 28-sport framework for the Olympics and now has 26. A new president will take office Tuesday. Moreover, Japan has indicated a willingness to host a parallel tournament.
If softball is to advance a successful effort, Spy believes it should be softball only and under new leadership.
WRESTLING: USA Today Summary
BUENOS AIRES – Wrestling had good reason to enter Sunday’s vote on its Olympic future with great confidence. The past seven months, the international and U.S. governing bodies mobilized an impressive and pricey campaign to save its sport from a crippling outcome.
The international governing body (FILA), spent almost $3 million on its campaign the last seven months, FILA vice president Stan Dziedzic told USA TODAY Sports. About $8 million total was spent by FILA, the U.S. and other federations on the effort, he said.
In contrast, the other sports in the running had budgets that were substantially smaller. Squash spent less than $1 million and baseball/softball at least $1 million, according to officials with both groups.
The high price of doing Olympic business was a futile effort for baseball/softball and squash, after they were thrown the unexpected curve ball of competing against a sport rooted in the first modern Games in 1896. Wrestling at least got something for its money. It transformed itself and emerged stronger.
“We viewed it not just as a cost to get back in the program but as an investment in the future of wrestling, so I think whatever we’ve done will pay benefits going forward. From that perspective, it’s funds well spent,” said Jim Scherr, a former Olympic wrestler who was the U.S. Olympic Committee CEO until 2009.
FILA elected a new president, included more women in decision-making roles and adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand, exactly what the IOC had asked it to do.
“The rule changes have made it more exciting to watch,” said Canadian Olympic champion Daniel Igali, who was part of the IOC presentation. He noted that scoring has been doubled, competitors who wrestle offensively are now rewarded more, leading to fewer clinches.
For several months, wrestling execs attended every event an IOC member might be at. On his way to Argentina, FIFA president Nenad Lalovic stopped at the United Nations, then dropped in on the judo world championships in Rio de Janeiro. Dziedzic said Lalovic will have amassed 220,000 air miles by the end of the year.
The group developed relationships with influential members such as Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait, the president of the Association of National Olympic Committees. It also helped that Scherr was a key member of the wrestling group, given his standing as a former USOC chief. But the star of the show was its charismatic president who never met a stranger he didn’t want to bear hug.
“He embodied the skill set needed, the diplomatic and the instincts,” said Dziedzic, a former U.S. Olympic wrestler. The chain-smoking Serb mended fences and built relationships.
FILA also brought in heavy hitters from the outside, including Teneo Consulting, which bills itself as “integrated counsel for a borderless world.” USA Wrestling contracted Ketchum, a New York-based public relations firm.
U.S. leaders formed the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling, which fought to save its sport at the grassroots level, through a relentless social media campaign and by staging grand events. In May, the group held “The Rumble on the Rails” at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The competition featured unlikely political bedfellows – the USA, Russia and Iran – united by a common cause.
Dziedzic described the nucleus of wrestling from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. The IOC is a European-centric body and wrestling doesn’t have a stronghold in many European countries, but the wrestling delegation wasn’t especially worried. Baseball/softball was in the same position, given its base is in Asia, the U.S. and Latin America.
Wrestling also enlisted Hollywood to help, including actors such as Mark Ruffalo and MMA stars. Actor Billy Baldwin raised about $150,000 for the sport’s well-orchestrated campaign through an Ebay auction that included items such as walk-on role on Boardwalk Empire plus a meet and greet with actor Steve Buscemi and a training session with Randy “The Natural” Couture.
The passion of its athletes and supporters carried the movement. After decades of inertia, the sport showed a staggering ability to change and in the end saved itself.
THE WASHINGTON POST CITES WRESTLING’S CHANGES
by Liz Clarke (veteran Olympic reporter)
After a seven-month exile, wrestling reclaimed its place on the Olympic stage Sunday, beating squash and a combined bid by baseball and softball for the lone remaining spot on the program for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Games.
Persuaded that the ancient sport is committed to remaking itself to appeal to a more diverse, contemporary audience, a majority of International Olympic Committee delegates favored wrestling’s addition in first-round balloting held in Buenos Aires.
Wrestling drew 49 votes; baseball-softball, 24; and squash, 22, after representatives of each made one final, 20-minute sales pitch about how their sport could strengthen the 21st century Olympic brand.
Wrestling officials jumped with joy, and at least one shed tears when IOC President Jacques Rogge announced that the sport had been selected, according to Nenad Lalovic, president of the sport’s international governing body, which is known by the acronym FILA.
“I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now,” Lalovic said in thanking IOC voters. “We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic movement that we can be.”
Lalovic was installed as FILA’s president after his predecessor was ousted following the stunning decision by the IOC’s executive board on Feb. 12 to drop wrestling following the 2016 Olympics.
The decision baffled enthusiasts of the sport and fans of the Olympics worldwide. But insiders familiar with the workings of the politically charged IOC understood it as a rebuke to wrestling’s leadership, which had shown indifference to repeated calls to revamp the sport’s confounding rules and staid presentation, rather than a rejection of wrestling itself.
Officials then sprang to action, ousting FILA’s president, simplifying the rules, adding weight classes for women and exploring ways to jazz up its presentation, such as changing the color of the mats and restyling the traditional singlet.
Sunday’s vote welcoming wrestling back into the Olympic fold represented an endorsement of those initiatives, much like a parent releasing a naughty child from a timeout.
“Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months,” said Rogge, whose 12-year tenure as the IOC’s president comes to an end Tuesday, when his successor will be elected on the final day of meetings in the Argentine capital. “They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport, including the addition of more women and athletes in decision-making positions; rule changes to make the sport more exciting and easy to understand; and an increase in the number of women’s competitions. We are pleased with their reaction and happy to have wrestling on the Olympic program in 2020 and 2024.”
It was a costly road back to the IOC’s good graces, however, entailing a worldwide public-relations blitz and lobbying campaign to rally supporters and sway decision-makers.
Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, estimated the price tag “in the millions of dollars.”
“I think it has been something that was needed,” Bender added of the global initiative to modernize the sport and galvanize supporters. “The sport answered the bell, so to speak.”
But the vote came as a disappointment to supporters of squash and the baseball-softball effort.
Two-time Olympian Jennie Finch, who led the U.S. softball team to a third consecutive gold medal in 2004 and silver in 2008, responded via Twitter: “We will keep fighting, keep playing, keep supporting, keep growing & keep DREAMING & BELIEVING!”
Baseball and softball were dropped from the Olympics following the 2008 Beijing Games.
Its sales pitch to IOC voters Sunday stressed a worldwide fan base of 200 million, softball’s global growth among girls and women and both sports’ youthful following on digital media. Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig voiced his support in a video but extended no promise of adjusting the MLB calendar to accommodate the Olympics.
Squash, which has never been part of the Games, was formally seeking inclusion for a third time. Its defeat, said Kevin Klipstein, chief executive of US Squash, was sure to disappoint its 15 million to 20 million participants worldwide.
“Squash overall has made a ton of progress in the last decades,” Klipstein said in a telephone interview. “We have an improved broadcast product in all five continents. Participation has doubled in the last five years. We have parity among women, not only in prize money but in participation. If and when the IOC is looking forward to including a sport that supports their ideals, we should be at the top of the list.”
Klipstein called it “a head-scratcher” that the IOC’s process these last months had not resulted in any genuine “addition” to the 2020 Olympics but rather a restoration of a sport. It was a point that Canadian IOC member Dick Pound raised Sunday, as well.
Troubled by the proliferation of Olympic sports and skyrocketing cost of staging the Games, the IOC voted in 2002 to cap the number of sports at 28, designating 25 as “core sports” and reserving three spots for sports to be added on a provisional basis.
Sunday’s victory doesn’t mean wrestling’s work is done, Lalovic cautioned, noting that the sport must redirect its momentum into a campaign to gain “core sport” status. “Our rightful place in the Olympic family is being a core sport,” Lalovic said.
But as wrestling remakes itself for the 21st century, Bender, the USA Wrestling chief, called for careful deliberation.
“It’s somewhat of a balance,” Bender said. “Those of us that are in this sport feel pretty passionate about the fact that this is the greatest sport we’ve ever known. We can’t lose sight of what’s right with wrestling and assume it needs a complete reset button.”
SPY: will softball remake itself?