It’s a three-sport race

In session... the IOC Executive Board meets at the SportAccord International Convention in St. Petersburg.In session...the IOC Executive Board meets at the SportAccord International Convention in St. Petersburg.-AP

The IOC's Executive Board short-listed wrestling, squash and softball-baseball combine from the eight sports vying for a single opening for the 2020 Olympics. Now it is up to the IOC’s General Assembly to take the final decision in September.

Eight sports were vying for the lone slot in the 2020 Olympics. This was one major issue before the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, which met in St. Petersburg recently to, among other things, take stock of the presentations of the eight international federations and make a choice.

The Executive Board, based on votes, short-listed three sports — wrestling, squash and softball-baseball combine. The IOC’s General Assembly will take the final decision — on which sport to fill the single opening for the 2020 Olympics — at its meeting in Buenos Aires on September 8.

Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid are the three cities in the race to hold the 2020 Olympics.

The five disciplines that were left out were karate, wakeboarding, roller sports, climbing sport and wushu. Initially only seven disciplines were in the race, but three months ago, wrestling, as many felt, was controversially dropped as a core sport from the 2020 Games. Expectedly, there was resentment over this as wrestling was always considered a traditional Olympic discipline.

With the backing of countries such as the USA, Russia and Iran among others, wrestling is making a strong bid for a come back to the Olympics. According to Nenad Lalovic, who was recently elected President of the International Wrestling Federation, the sport had a bigger fight ahead but was confident, “for we are good fighters.”

To add to wrestling’s advantage, following the decision to eliminate it from the Games, the rule makers brought about major changes to the sport to make it more attractive, especially for the television viewers who largely determine a sport’s popularity rating. The key changes include matches of two three-minute sessions instead of three two-minute bouts and the scoring, which will be cumulative instead of the best of three system. While softball and baseball had made independent bids earlier, this was the first time the two bid as a combined sport. Men’s baseball and women’s softball went out of the Games after Beijing 2008. Squash on the other hand has never entered the Games despite two previous attempts for inclusion.

In a way, this is the best progress for squash, which has undergone all-round transformation with the aim of getting into the Olympics.

N. Ramachandran, the President of the World Squash Federation, during whose term major changes were brought about in the sport, was delighted that “one big hurdle” had been crossed. Minutes before the meeting ended in St. Petersburg, he told Sportstar, “As far as the squash fraternity is concerned, this is just one match over, but there remains another big match for which we have to begin our preparations straightaway.”

He also thanked everyone associated with the sport for the collective effort in bringing squash to the fore. What must have particularly moved the Executive Board was Nicol David’s submission. “The one big regret in my career is that I have never had the chance to compete in the Olympic Games, and I will happily trade all my seven world titles for the chance of winning an Olympic gold,” said the women’s world number one squash player from Malaysia.

Earlier, the IOC President, Jacques Rogge, said: “The Board received excellent presentations and I feel my colleagues had made a good decision in selecting baseball/softball, squash and wrestling to be put forward in Buenos Aires.”

S. R. Suryanarayan