ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — As the man leading wrestling’s charge to preserve its Olympic status, Nenad Lalovic believes he’s done what it takes.
Three months after wrestling was surprisingly dropped from the 2020 Games, Lalovic will present a new-look sport and revamped governing body to the IOC on Wednesday in a bid to keep its Olympic place.
“I’m confident,” Lalovic, the new president of international federation FILA, said Tuesday. “A lot of people say to me, ‘Oh, you won’t face any problem here.’ But we’ll see. We did everything we could. Nothing else was possible.
“We will continue, no matter what we will be decided here. It’s a new sport.”
Wrestling is competing against seven other sports for a single opening on the 2020 lineup. The others are a combined baseball-softball bid, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and the Chinese martial art of wushu.
The federations will make closed-door presentations to the IOC executive board, which will decide which sport or sports to recommend to the IOC general assembly for a final vote Sept. 8 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The IOC board will likely select three or four finalists. Wrestling, squash and karate have been cited as strong contenders. Men’s baseball and women’s softball, which have been off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games, have merged into a single federation to improve their chances.
The addition of wrestling to the mix has not gone over well with all the sports, who feel that it is overshadowing the contest and reducing their own chances. If wrestling is reinstated in September, that will defeat the IOC’s original goal of bringing in a new sport.
Lalovic, a Serb who replaced Switzerland’s Raphael Martinetti as FILA president, isn’t concerned about the plight of the other sports.
“They are a little bit surprised,” he said. “They had two years to prepare. We had three months. We are here because we were not good enough. They have to think about their sport. We don’t think about their sport. We think about our sport, and we prepare ourselves without watching what’s going on around us.”
Wrestling, a sport with a tradition dating to the ancient Olympics, has gone through a major upheaval since it was dropped by the IOC in February. Lalovic was elected FILA president, women and athletes were brought into decision-making roles, and the sport adopted a series of rule changes designed to make wrestling more fan-friendly and easier to understand.
Among the changes, matches will consist of two 3-minute sessions instead of three 2-minute periods, and scoring will be cumulative instead of the previous best-of-three system.
“We had the strength to change,” Lalovic said of his message to the IOC. “We already did and we will continue. We made mistakes in the past, for sure. Now we are looking forward. We don’t look back.”
Among the countries in which the decision will be watched closely is the United States, where wrestling has a strong Olympic tradition and 300,000 high school students compete in the sport.
“The Olympic Games is the ultimate stamp of legitimacy on your sport,” USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. “You talk to young wresters all over the world, and they’ll say the same thing. What’s their goal? Their goal is to be Olympic champion. I’m not sure that’s the same with all the other sports.”
The issue is also being followed by the three cities bidding to host the 2020 Games — Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. Bid leaders from the three candidates are in St. Petersburg to make presentations Thursday at the SportAccord Convention. Wrestling is particularly popular in Turkey and Japan.
“It is important for Turkey because of our success and because it is a national sport,” Istanbul bid leader Hasan Arat said Tuesday. “But this is an IOC board decision, which we have to respect. I see lots of changes in wrestling, and I hope wrestling will remain in the games.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles President Nenad Lalovic, second from right, at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, on April 17, 2013, with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, left, and Russian Wrestling Federation President Mikhail Mamiashvili, second from left, attending.