Japan Wrestling Federation President Tomiaki Fukuda on Wednesday called into question the International Olympic Committee’s decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games, saying the sport’s governing body has failed to give “clear reasons” for why wrestling is being removed.
Fukuda said the fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics was far from over.
“The final verdict has not been made on whether it will be removed. Everything will depend on our efforts and actions from now,” said Fukuda, who is also vice president for FILA, wrestling’s world governing body. “We have been in the Olympics from the start, so there was always the feeling of reassurance that it was a key sport.”
Wrestling was removed from the IOC’s list of 25 “core sports” for the games in 2020, which have yet to be awarded to a host city. Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul are bidding for the 2020 Summer Games.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion before the final vote is made at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The IOC’s executive board shocked the world’s wrestling community, whose sport dates back to the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, with its vote to cut the sport on Tuesday.
Wrestling now joins seven other sports in applying for 2020, among them a joint bid from baseball and softball, squash, karate, roller sports, wakeboarding, sports climbing and the martial art wushu.
However, it is extremely unlikely it will be voted back in so early after being removed by the IOC’s executive board.
FILA is scheduled to hold an executive conference in Phuket this Saturday and Sunday to address the issue in view of building a case to present to the IOC board in May.
“We’re getting a late start. Unless we exert an enormous amount of energy it will be difficult to rebound from this,” Fukuda said.
Fukuda questioned an evaluation done by the IOC program commission that analyzed 39 criteria, including TV ratings, ticket sales, antidoping policy and global participation and popularity. Wrestling was apparently ranked “low” in several technical criteria.
“No clear reasons have been presented. I also question whether the figures they have are correct,” Fukuda said.
Something that has not been explained, however, is how modern pentathlon survived the four rounds of secret balloting among 14 members, excluding IOC president Jacques Rogge, despite being considered the most likely to be dropped.
Members vote each time on which sports should not be included in the core group; wrestling and modern pentathlon were tied for five to top the first round, but wrestling received seven, six and eight for the most in each of the final three rounds.
Modern pentathlon, which along with wrestling and field hockey, was left in the final round, curiously received votes of five, four, five and three — its final vote having two fewer than its first.
Wrestling has been a rich source of Olympic medals for Japan in the women’s competition and three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida was still in trying to come to terms with the IOC’s decision.
“There are a lot of children who want to win medals at the Olympics and this (decision) will end their dreams,” she said.
Three of four wrestling golds in London last summer came in the women’s division from Yoshida (55 kg) and Kaori Icho (63 kg), both of whom made it Olympic three-peats, and Hitomi Obara (48 kg).
“I thought it was a joke (when I heard the news),” said now-retired Obara. “For athletes, not having a goal to work toward is tougher than losing.”
Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in London became the first Japanese man to win Olympic gold in wrestling since 1988, when he capped a string of impressive results to take the 66-kg freestyle title.
“I don’t know what goal to aim for now. I have to just keep trying my best in competition,” he said.