PARIS: The sweeping reforms that have transformed wrestling in the past six months will not stop even if the sport regains its place at the 2020 Olympics, federation president Nenad Lalovic told AFP on Tuesday.
The 55-year-old Serbian – whose son was an international-level wrestler – has led reforms in the sport since it was surprisingly dropped from the programme for the 2020 Summer Olympics after a vote by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) executive board in February.
However, thanks to the tireless efforts by Lalovic – who was elected president after his predecessor was forced to resign following the fallout from the vote – and his team they are considered favourites to see off squash and a joint softball/baseball bid to be restored to the 2020 sports roster when IOC members vote in Buenos Aires on Sept 8.
Lalovic, a yachting enthusiast who admits his journey to the top of the wrestling federation has been an unexpected one, told AFP from Rio de Janeiro that, win or lose, the reforms already put in place would be added to.
“We fell into the worst crisis that this sport has known in 3,000 years,” said the charismatic and affable Serbian.
“But in just six months we have succeeded in implementing the reforms that we were advised to do by the IOC.
“There are new rules, an independent refereeing commission and there will be six women’s categories at the Rio Games in 2016.
“We dug deep and found the resources necessary to implement these reforms, which was not easy but we succeeded in doing as much as possible in six months.
“However, whether we win or lose in Buenos Aires the reforms will continue as we have an obligation to the athletes and the sport.”
Lalovic, who will be in Buenos Aires from Sunday to prepare for the final presentation to the IOC members, said that chief among the reforms was to make it a more television-friendly sport.
That will range from the rather skimpy and unattractive kit the wrestlers wear to the arena they perform in.
“The rules were not very understandable and there didn’t appear to be any structure to the sport,” he said.
“Now the rules are very understandable and very good for TV. Everyone can now understand what happens in two minutes.
“Now we will continue to work with TV on the wrestlers kit for instance. Before we used to look only at their socks because of the nature of their strip but we want to change that now.
“Also we will look to change the decoration and architecture of the rooms where they compete as it is not ideal for cameras but there we will use specialists in that field for we are not experts in the art of decoration.”
Lalovic, whose reforms have received the public endorsement of IOC vice-president Thomas Bach – who is the front-runner to replace outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge on Sept 10 – said the reforms had already been embraced by the crowds at the recent world junior championships in Sofia.
“Normally the crowds would come for the pre-championships concert and then leave but this time they stayed on and were delighted with the spectacle and the intensity of the bouts.
“For the wrestlers were not spending time just tussling on the mat but were fighting standing up.
“The young Russian lad (Georgii Gogaev) in the 120kg category took just 172 seconds to win all his five bouts. That never happened before in the old days.”
Lalovic admits that there is an increasing sense of nervousness and apprehension as they approach the vote.
“However, that is the same for the other two sports as well. We have come from a lot farther back then they have because we had to put our campaign together very quickly.
“However, the strength we found within ourselves says a lot about the mental state of wrestlers.
“There is no such thing as a knockout.” – AFP