By Tom Degun, republished from Inside The Games.
The race to join the 2020 Olympic Games sports programme has been a long and slightly confusing one but things dramatically appear to be taking shape as we approach the final stages.
It was in July 2011 that eight sports were shortlisted for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics: baseball, karate, roller sports, softball, sports climbing, squash, wakeboard and wushu.
Last year, the eight sports morphed into seven bids following the decision of baseball and softball to combine and become one bid. Things looked relatively simple at that stage – one of the sevens bids comes in for the 2020 Games and one existing Olympic sport goes out to make way for it.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires in September was always the immovable deadline when the decision would be made and therefore it was no surprise to see hard campaigning from nearly all the bidders as 2013 came around.
But a giant spanner was thrown into the works at the recent IOC Executive Board meeting in Lausanne when wrestling was cut from the list of core sports after Rio 2016.
That decision has been met with fury from real heavyweights, not least the formidable Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The IOC are said to be shocked such a fierce backlash to the decision and the big losers here could in fact be the seven original bidders.
Since the shortlist was announced in July 2011, the bidders have spent almost two years campaigning to see off their rivals – in some cases spending huge amounts of money (legally to the very best of my knowledge).
Should they get to Buenos Aires, and wrestling be voted straight back in, which is a very realistic possibility, there would be understandable anger from every bid.
The watershed moment in all this has now become next IOC Executive Board meeting, which is due to take place in St Petersburg, Russia, from May 29-31.
At that vital meeting, all seven bids, along with wrestling, will present to the Executive Board, stating their case to secure that prestigious spot at the 2020 Olympics, worth millions of dollars in televison revenue and sponsorship money.
The next step in not set in stone, but it is understood that following the presentations, the Executive Board will put forward just three sports for the full IOC Session to vote on in Buenos Aires. The growing belief is that if wrestling can get itself into this group of three, then its chances of being kept on the programme will increase dramatically, with the likes of Putin calling in favours from several IOC members he is close to.
Wrestling will underline the fact that it has appeared in every Olympic Games, except one, since the founding of the Modern Games in 1896 and that it can trace its heritage back to the Ancient Olympics in 708BC.
But is it time for modernisation for the greatest sporting event on earth.
Since the shortlist was announced in July 2011, I have had close dealings with all eight of the bidding sports in some form or another. My dealing this week took me to the Westway Sports Centre in London where the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) staged a special event to promote climbing’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.
Climbing is a sport that has gone slight under the radar in this bid but the demonstration was fascinating. I immediately appreciated the skill talent and athleticism involved and I truly agreed with the sentiments of the BMC chief executive Dave Turnbull when he told me the huge appeal of climbing to young people around the world could help it secure a spot at the 2020 Olympics.
“I think part of that appeal to young people comes because climbing has all the excitement and adrenaline of the extreme sport that it is,” he said.Climbing would do well to play the youth card. Appealing to young people is one of their main objectives right now and largely the reason they spent so much money in creating the Youth Olympic Games, which debuted in Singapore in 2010.
But all the sports will have their own unique card to play and all are impressive and I find it hard to pick one ahead of the others. For example, I was personally impressed by the 2012 World Karate Championships in Paris I reported on last year, I was impressed by the 2013 World Series Squash Finals at Queen’s Club in London I attended in January and to come back to wrestling, I was certainly impressed when I watched it up close from the media tribune at ExCeL during the London 2012 Olympic Games last summer.
My point, though an obvious one to make, is that the IOC have a hugely tough decision coming up in deciding which sport to put on the programme at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Just don’t place any bets on this one, it is far too difficult to call, meaning a very nervy few months for our bidding sports with wrestling now added to the pot.