Gifting mirrors isnt the most popular way to kick-start your term as the president of an international sports federation. But desperate times call for desperate measures and the message sent out by Nenad Lalovic,the president of the international wrestling federation (FILA),last Saturday couldnt have been simpler: the man in the mirror would be responsible for getting the sport back into the Olympics.
Wrestling is suffering the harshest of wake-up calls. The IOC,upset at FILAs reluctance to adopt a progressive attitude and its complacency over its place in the Olympics,gave wrestling the boot in February. Consequently,the entire wrestling community from India to Iran,Russia to the USA joined forces in getting the sport back into the Olympic fold.
With the IOC Executive Board set to prepare a shortlist of three sports out of eight for the 2020 Olympics,the question is: has wrestling done enough to retain its place in the elite programme? Gauging the present mood,the answer seems to be yes. Wrestling,squash and karate are likely to be the three shortlisted sports according to some experts.
Much to their credit,the world wrestling body has acted responsibly and vigorously in times of adversity. In a rare,looking-inwards moment,they conceded that they had failed to keep the sport modern. The federation made some significant rule changes on Saturday,in an effort to make the sport more spectator-friendly. There have been exhibition events and active social media campaigns; there have been countless tweets in favour of wrestling and a Facebook page that has more than 92,000 supporters.
However,the changes that FILA hopes to introduce in the near future can be of greater impact. The world body plans to do change the look of the sport,from replacing the current uniform of singlets with tight-fitting T-shirts and shorts a change that they hope will make more youngsters comfortable about trying the sport to jazzing up bouts with loud music and flashy lights,usually seen at boxing events.
These are still baby steps. But it has helped FILA gather momentum towards convincing the IOC about an Olympic return. Until that happens,the man in the mirror has his task cut out.
Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai
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