ATHENS (Reuters) - Wrestling’s reclamation of a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games represented a victory for Greece, according to the country’s federation president Kostas Thanos.
Grapplers across the world breathed a sigh of relief as wrestling completed an unprecedented comeback on Sunday, reclaiming its place at the Tokyo Games after beating bids from rival sports in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote.
“This was a victory for Greece because the sport is completely Greek and is part of our history,” Thanos told Novasport FM radio following the vote in Buenos Aries.
“I want to really thank journalists, Greek MPs and the Greek Olympic Committee for their efforts and the support they have given us during what was a difficult time.
“As we saw, there was an unprecedented response globally and I think those reactions surprised the IOC,” he added.
Wrestling featured in the ancient Olympics as well as every modern Games apart from 1900 but surprisingly lost its Olympic spot in February as the IOC looked to refresh its program following the 2016 Games in Rio.
Sunday’s result was a sensational turnaround for the sport under new international wrestling federation (FILA) president Nenad Lalovic, who overhauled its rules, administration, gender equality policy and operations following the shock exclusion
The burly Serb had taken over after their Olympic exit and had been credited with bringing the sport back into contention after it made a shortlist of candidate sports in May.
Coupled with his efforts, Greece also pulled out all the stops since then in a charm offensive to help wrestling’s cause, organizing numerous petitions as well as a unique exhibition tournament at Ancient Olympia in July.
Wrestlers from Britain, Iran, Russia, the United States and other countries gathered at Olympia, in the Western Peloponnese area of Greece, to participate in the one-off event.
“I believe the tournament organized in Ancient Olympia with the help of Greek Olympic Committee (HOC) was the peak of our efforts to convince the IOC,” Thanos added.
Greek Olympic Committee president Spyros Kapralos added in an official statement: “We express our great satisfaction for the preservation of wrestling in the Olympic Games program.
“The decision is sure to be warmly welcomed by all sports people, not only in Greece, but everywhere in the world. It is impossible for anyone to imagine an Olympics without the presence of such a historic sport,” he added.
There was a similar sense of relief in India for whom wrestling fetched two of the country’s six hard-earned medals from last year’s London Olympics.
“I was closely following the voting session of the IOC and the moment (TV) channels flashed the breaking news, there were tears in my eyes,” Yogeshwar Dutt, who won the freestyle 60kg bronze in London, told Times of India newspaper.
Indian sports minister Jitendra Singh had written to IOC president Jacques Rogge, requesting him to retain wrestling as an Olympic sport.
Singh also wrote to his counterparts in countries where wrestling is popular seeking their support in reinstating the game in Olympics.
“With IOC deciding to include wrestling as additional sport for the 2020 Olympics, these efforts have met with success,” Singh’s ministry said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien