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,” the country’s federation president Kostas 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. [Reuters]