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'Revolutionized' wrestling optimistic of Games return

By Karolos Grohmann

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Wrestling should reap the rewards of the major changes it has introduced since it was cut from the 2020 Olympics by winning reinstatement to the Games, international federation (FILA) chief Nenad Lalovic told Reuters television.

Serbian Lalovic, who took over after the sport's spectacular Games exit in February while the IOC sought to refresh its Olympic program, said recent positive comments from senior IOC members were proof the sport was heading in the right direction.

"The feeling I have is most of them (IOC members) are satisfied with the changes and they recognize we have a new wrestling today," Lalovic said in an interview.

"I am very optimistic because we have worked a lot in the past months. We are going to present our new wrestling. It is an ancient sport but we have made so many changes that we have revolutionized it."

The sport made a 2020 Olympics shortlist along with squash and baseball/softball in May. The IOC will vote on September 8 at its session in the Argentine capital for one of the three to be included in those Games.

Since February, wrestling has made sweeping changes in rules, administration, gender equality and making the sport more attractive to spectators and broadcasters, getting the thumbs up from several top IOC members.

Comparatively, the other two sports in contention have not garnered the same glowing support from the Olympic movement.

Wrestling also benefited from a wave of backing from the sport's powerhouses including the United States, Russia and Iran, among others, as well as senior politicians in many countries, including Russia's Vladimir Putin.

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Lalovic, who staged a wrestling tournament in Ancient Olympia, Greece, in July to highlight the sport's historic roots, said wrestling enjoyed universal representation and was easier to develop in other parts of the world than some other sports.

"I believe that wrestling is the most practiced sport of those (in the running) and it is also a cheap sport."

He did not rule out, however, the vote going against them, saying either way wrestling, that featured in the ancient Olympics and in every modern Games apart from the 1900 edition, had its work cut out.

"Everything can happen, we can win or we can lose but elected or not elected we will continue to work."

He said the surprise exclusion of a sport seen as safe prior to the IOC vote in February was also a wake-up call for all Olympic sports.

"No one is safe," he said, adding that should the vote be in their favor, wrestling would then try to become one of the 25 core Olympic sports to secure a longer-term presence in the Games.

Should they lose, they would only come back in four years time to try again.

"To reintegrate wrestling is the challenge of my life," said Lalovic. "It is difficult to succeed. We are wrestlers. We fall on the mat but we get up again and fight."

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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