EXCLUSIVE-INTERVIEW-Olympics-Wrestling can change, new chief says
BERLIN Feb 18 (Reuters) - Wrestling is ready to change and correct the mistakes that led to the sport's surprise 2020 Olympic exit last week, interim international federation (FILA) chief Nenad Lalovic said on Monday.
Lalovic who was elected at the weekend after a vote of no confidence triggered the resignation of president Raphael Martinetti, said FILA board members had been left in the dark about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote.
The IOC Executive Board last week surprisingly recommended wrestling be dropped from the Games in 2020 as the organisation seeks to revamp its sports programme to keep it attractive to voters and sponsors.
"I am surprised by the IOC decision because we (FILA bureau members) were kept without information," Serbian Lalovic told Reuters in a interview on his way back from the FILA meeting in Thailand.
"No one even knew that there was an IOC commission working on these problematic sports. As bureau members we did not have this information.
"Now, why we did not have the information is another question that needs to be answered," he said.
Wrestling, which featured in the first modern Games in 1896 and all editions since apart from 1900, was also a sport of the ancient games in Olympia.
It has now been added to a list of candidate sports that includes squash, karate, wakeboarding, roller sports, sports climbing, wushu, and baseball and softball as a joint sport.
A shortlist from the eight sports vying for the empty Olympic place left by wrestling will be drawn up at an IOC Executive Board meeting in St Petersburg in May.
The IOC will elect the winning sport to be included in the 2020 Olympics in September in Buenos Aires.
Wrestling technically has the chance to return but it looks very unlikely that the IOC session would vote back in the sport which its own executive board recommended for exit.
"Wrestling has helped build the Olympic village since ancient times and now we are out," said Lalovic. "The first steps will be to see how to integrate it back into the Olympic family, because end of May is the decision."
"We then have to survive Buenos Aires too. It is very difficult but if I was not optimistic I would not be here. That is where all our energy will be focused on now."
Lalovic pledged to spend most of his time in Lausanne when not on the road meeting IOC members in an effort to lobby for the sport before the May decision.
He accepted that wrestling had neglected to cultivate contacts and support. Martinetti was criticised for failing to do exactly that despite FILA's offices being located near the IOC headquarters.
"There are some sports where the practising of these sports is minimal," Lalovic said. "I don't want to say which these sports are because they are not our enemies."
Wrestling was beaten in the IOC vote by modern pentathlon, canoeing, hockey and taekwondo.
"We have been bad neighbours, our approach to the Olympic movement was in the past a little bit problematic. I strongly believe we first have to see what is happening now and then to criticise the others," Lalovic said.
Wrestling seems to have paid the price for the other sports' strong support within the 15-member IOC board, with voting patterns revealing a trend for negative voting to spare them.
"That is quite possible," Lalovic said when asked whether wrestling had become collateral damage in IOC members' attempts to save other sports.
Wrestling, not seen as at risk before the IOC meeting, got the most votes for the sport to be ousted, from the first to the last round of voting.
"I will try to meet with IOC members, to see as many as I can and for them to tell us what we have to change. We will also have professional presentation of our sport," Lalovic said.
The decision to axe wrestling triggered a global uproar in the sport with the United States and Russia, traditional powerhouses, eager to lead a worldwide movement to reinstate it.
"Now we will do our best to repair this situation for our sport. Many of the people close to the sport don't understand how much wrestling is represented in the world," Lalovic said. (Editing by Clare Fallon)