Nenad Lalovic

In which Nenad Lalovic tells it straight up

In which Nenad Lalovic tells it straight up

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach of Germany, was elected in 2013. His term is for eight years. The rules allow him a follow-on term of four more years. Presumably, he will win four more years. Thus he will be IOC president until 2025.

If you think it’s too early for the who-will-be-the-next-IOC president parlor game, you picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue. Be assured the politicking and positioning is already well underway — just as it was with Bach during the years that Belgium’s Jacques Rogge was IOC boss. 

The IOC is a European institution. Thus odds are its next leader will be European, just as — again — Bach succeeded Rogge, and Rogge succeeded Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain. For now, keep your eyes on, in no particular order: Switzerland’s Patrick Baumann, secretary general of the basketball federation FIBA and head of the LA 2028 coordination commission; Belgium’s Harvard MBA-trained Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Viejant, head of the Paris 2024 coordination panel; the increasingly influential Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., currently the IOC first vice president; and Nenad Lalovic, head of the wrestling federation UWW and, now, like Samaranch, a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board.

Keep in mind that just four-plus years ago, wrestling’s future as an Olympic sport was in serious doubt.

Now Lalovic, a businessman from Belgrade, Serbia, who orchestrated its return to the fold, is a member of the IOC’s most powerful inner circle — as the representative of the more than two dozen Summer Games sports. 

Hey, IOC, let's go surfing -- now


Hard to believe but snowboarding, which is basically now the it-sport of the Winter Games, has been on the program only since 1998. It has really been a big deal only since 2002, when halfpipe took off. The International Olympic Committee has had one undisputed big winner in recent years at the Summer Games: beach volleyball. BMX? Kinda. The real ticket is at the beach, with the hard bodies in their bikinis or board shorts and the California-cool, surfer-dude lifestyle.

This is the farthest thing from rocket science. With the IOC in the midst of a potentially far-reaching review and reform program — all the members meeting in Monaco in December to debate President Thomas Bach’s so-called “Agenda 2020” program — the time is right to figure out how, or better yet how now, to get the sport that’s at the core of it all into the Games: surfing.

Parade of nations at the 2013 ISA juniors opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

Again, this is super-obvious.

There’s nothing like surfing on the program. (Windsurfing is totally different. It’s a sailing sport.) And if you think beach volleyball is a hot ticket, the sort of thing that has proven its appeal to the very demographic the IOC is trying to reach — hello, surfing?

Think again what snowboarding has done for the Winter Games. Now imagine what surfing could do for the stagnant Summer Games.

You think, just as a for instance, the IOC would be delighted to count on super big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton as an ambassador?

In considering surfing for the Games, what’s different from prior years is the advent of artificial wave technologies. That makes the sport far more accessible and controllable — and thus do-able in an Olympic context. Translation: surfing no longer has to rely -- indeed, should not have to count on -- having a nearby ocean.

Big, big, big picture: surfing right now is practiced by about 35 million people worldwide, according to estimates. Artificial wave technology is likely going to explode the sport’s potential, bringing it to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people everywhere on Planet Earth, people not lucky or wealthy enough to live by the sea. The IOC is often at the forefront of showcasing precisely this sort of growth (see Summer Games Rio 2016 — first time in South America, Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, first Winter Olympics in South Korea).

Currently, the International Surfing Assn. counts 89 member nations. For 2015, it plans to rocket past 100; 20 more nations are in the pipeline.

As this space has pointed out before, it’s skateboarding’s time in the Games, too. For many if not all the same reasons.

The thing that makes surfing such a remarkably easy sell is the guy at the top — Fernando Aguerre, 56, the ISA president, who is up for re-election next week at the federation’s meetings in Peru.

ISA president Fernando Aguerre

Aguerre, born and raised in Mar del Plata, Argentina, has lived in the seaside San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla for roughly 30 years. The story is perhaps well known about how he and his brother, Santiago, started Reef Sandals from scratch; they sold the company in 2005.

What is not as well known, maybe, is that Aguerre starts every day by surfing. Still. Typically, at 8:05 in the morning — his favorite spot is a break known locally as Windansea.

Name another international federation president who does that.

Aguerre and Nenad Lalovic, the president of the international wrestling federation, which now goes by the name United World Wrestling, are examples of the new faces — with first-rate passion, energy and ideas — who have arrived, and can be expected to be important for years, within the Olympic scene.

So, too, Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and SportAccord president.

Last year, when Aguerre was given the “Waterman” award — the surf industry’s highest honor — Bob McKnight, the executive chairman of the surfwear maker Quiksilver, referring to the way Aguerre views each day, said, “He’s always in attack mode,” adding, “He understands the business, understands the people, the culture, what we do, where it’s at, why we do it.

“I think he just looks at himself in the mirror every morning and asks, ‘Who am I? I’m Fernando, and I’m the man. I go attack!’ That’s how he has always been.”

Added pro big-wave surfer Greg Long, “I tell you one thing: Fernando loves to have a good time. That’s one of the first things I remember about him — his contagious energy and excitement. There’s the whole business side to him. Everybody knows that. They’ve seen that. They have seen what he has created — time and again in this industry. But, more importantly, the guy loves life.”

The IOC members see a lot of BS, a lot of false smiles. In Aguerre — who walked into his first Olympic meeting in 2007, not knowing a soul — they have seen authenticity.

With his brother, he started a company from scratch. They made it, and made it big. But — always — there is for Fernando Aguerre the memory of his grandmother in Argentina, who worked as a maid, and his grandfather, a taxi driver.

When Fernando was 15, his grandmother gave him a parka, which had to have cost her a big piece of that month's paycheck.

“She said,” he recalls, “you are too young to understand -- but giving is better than receiving. If you give a lot, you have a chance to be a better person.”

Later, when she was getting on in years, he said to her, what kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?

She said, “I want the flowers now because when I am dead I won’t be able to smell them,” and he says, “Appreciate what you have now. If you take that to the relationships with people then you have a richer relationship with the people in your life.”

Surfing — if you have ever done it — is huge fun. The only thing like it, of course, is snowboarding.

For Aguerre, however, it’s also about one-to-one change, and the way that change ripples out throughout our world.

There are the ISA scholarships aimed at helping kids in places such as Namibia and India.

There are stories like the one of Bali’s only 20-year-old female pro surfer — who says she is inspiring other girls to take up surfing.

Of a woman paralyzed in a car crash 18 years ago who had always dreamed of surfing — and went, duct-taped to the back of a big-wave rider.

Sands of the world -- a key feature of an ISA opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

There are the conversations Aguerre has had with presidents, prime ministers, tourist ministers and other leaders — in Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, among other places. In Costa Rica, the official numbers last year showed 2.4 million visitors, of whom 10 percent were surfers, or 240,000. Their average expenditure: $1440. The math: $345 million.

“For Costa Rica, that’s not small change,” Aguerre said.

“For me,” he said, “I feel like my role as an international federation president is not just to develop the sport or run high-quality world championships — to be sure there is fair play and no doping, all the things a president must do.

“It’s also to educate leaders about the powerful relevance of surfing as a social and economic force. That is probably what catches most people by surprise.”

Really, it’s time. Surfing in the Games. As soon as possible.


Wrestling's handshake moment

Russia put troops on the Ukrainian mainland for the first time Saturday, deploying 80 soldiers along with four helicopter gunships and three armored vehicles to seize a natural gas terminal distribution station near Crimea. Crimea is set to vote Sunday whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Ukraine’s government and Western governments have denounced the vote as illegal.

What role, if any, can sports play amid such turmoil?

Ukrainian and Russian wrestlers and team officials meet before action gets underway at the LA World Cup // photo courtesy Tony Rotundo,

The Olympic movement aims to move the world toward peace. Can it?

What of the symbolism in the protest Saturday in Sochi by the Ukrainian cross-country ski team at the Paralympics? On the podium, as the rival Russians collected their golds, the Ukrainians — winners of silver — covered their medals in silent protest.

“It is a silent protest, fighting for peace for everyone … because the situation in Ukraine didn’t change,” Ukraine team official Nataliya Harach would later tell Associated Press.

Here in Los Angeles, at wrestling’s annual World Cup, the Ukraine and Russian men’s freestyle wrestling teams squared off in pool play, beforehand the two squads meeting in the middle of the mat for the traditional handshakes. In some cases, there were genuine hugs.

“Sport is not political,” a Ukrainian national team coach, Yurii Nazarenko, would say later. “Just go wrestle,” adding a moment later, “We can’t really fight about anything.”

Before each of the eight individual matches, the two wrestlers, one Ukrainian, one Russian, one in red, the other in blue, would once more shake hands. Afterward, no matter the result — Russia defeated Ukraine, 7-1 — again they shook hands.

At the end of every match, each Ukrainian wrestler shook hands with the Russian delegation. And vice-versa.

“They come on the mat, they fight like warriors and then they shake hands and then they shake hands again," Nazarenko said speaking through a translator. "That is the beauty of the sport.”

Christakis Alexandridis, the Russian coach, said, “They are our brothers. We support our brothers. We don’t go for political ideas. We go for sport ideas. A political situation can happen to any family. We will be brothers forever.”

This, bottom line, is why wrestling has been part of the Olympic Games since the beginning, why its adherents fought so fiercely to keep it in the program last year when the International Olympic Committee’s executive board had moved last February to give it the boot, why its ethos deserves renewed attention and respect.

Intriguingly, of course, Russian president Vladimir Putin was one of the biggest backers of the push to keep wrestling in the Games.

Putin was in Sochi on Saturday, where he watched part of the cross-country event, meeting with Ukraine Paralympic Committee president Valery Sushkevich.

“During the meeting, they discussed how the celebration of sport, especially one like the Paralympics, cannot and should not come under the influence of some or other processes on the international political agenda of the day,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

In Los Angeles, Andy Barth, head of the World Cup LA organizing committee, said at Saturday evening's formal opening ceremony, amid flags from Russia, Ukraine, Iran, the United States and elsewhere, “We come here as competitors, as wrestlers — we leave as friends.”

The president of the international wrestling federation, FILA, Nenad Lalovic of Serbia, was supposed to be at the World Cup event. Complications from a broken arm kept him in Europe. In a taped video message, he noted the obvious — teams from Russia and Ukraine, Iran and the United States — and said, “We send the world a message that friendship is always possible.”

This is because Olympic wrestling is fundamental, elemental and close.

The two guys — for this discussion, Saturday’s wrestling involved only men — have to confront each other, physically, mentally and emotionally. Of course, they have to compete. But it’s not like track and field, or swimming. They have to engage. They have to touch each other. There is no hiding.

As physical as wrestling is, and for sure it is physical, it is even more a test of wills.

That’s why there is so much respect and goodwill out there on the mat and within and among anyone who knows wrestling.

Alexandridis said, “In this place, all is friends. USA, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, no problem, all is friends. We are one family. The family name is wrestling family. We are here, one family. All is friends, everybody. Come on, everybody.”

A couple hours after Russia and Ukraine got after it, the Iranians and Americans met on the mat. Again, there were handshakes.

"It's best if sports and politics don't mix," Iranian wrestler Reza Yazdani, who competes at 97 kilos, or 213 pounds, said, speaking through a translator.  "In wrestling, it's best if the politics stay out of the sport itself and people are able to appreciate the sport for what it is."

U.S. coach Zeke Jones said, “Wrestling is the common bond in the world.

“If you look around the world, this is the sport that bonds the world together. I don’t know any other sport that has this many countries that have wrestling. And there is a certain amount of respect for a wrestler who bleeds out on the mat. We fight each other. But when we leave, we shake hands.

“We knew because we’re in the fight together that when we leave — we’re friends.”

In the second match, 61 kilograms, or 134 pounds, as Reece Humphrey of the United States and Masoud Esmailpoor Jouybari of Iran were going at it, the two wrestlers skittered off the mat, the Iranian finding himself on the edge of the other, where wrestlers from Turkey and Armenia were competing.

Before Humphrey and Jouybari started up again, they shook hands — no hard feelings.

“You gotta respect these guys,” Humphrey would say later.

“When you’re on the mat, you gotta fight. I knew I was getting ready to go into a war, a fistfight, basically. When he was pushing me out of bounds, he drove a couple extra steps, so I kind of threw him down. and it’s weird - because I could start to feel him break a little bit. But that guy doesn’t break. He just keeps coming. And then you slap hands. It’s like, ‘Hey, man, let’s go. It’s going to be a good fight.’ So, there’s always sportsmanship with a guy that can beat you or almost beat you.

“You’ve got to respect them. Because you know the work they put in. It’s got to be just as good as yours."

Humphrey built a 6-1 lead, pushed it to 8-1. Then, though, Jouybari cut it to 8-3, tied it up at 8 and, finally, won, 10-8. At the end, the two guys hugged.

Over the course of the evening, the Iranians defeated the Americans, 5-3.

At the 2013 World Cup in Teheran, with seven classes instead of eight, the Iranians defeated the U.S., 6-1. A couple of swings here and there Saturday night — besides Humphrey’s match, the Americans lost two by the same 1-0 score — and things might well have gone the other way.

That’s what was on Jones’ mind at the end of the night. Not world politics.

“I know the rest of the world is paying attention to it but when we go out there, we are shooting double-legs and trying to get gut-wrenches,” he said, using wrestling lingo for take-downs.

“We’re not thinking about what the political leaders are doing. We want to focus on what our wrestling matches are doing. Obviously they are a great, great competitor — Iran. We want to beat them. And they want to beat us. They showed up to win. And they did tonight.”

The Jordan Burroughs problem

Quick. Name the best wrestler on the Olympic and international scene the United States has ever produced. The name most people would name -- if, that is, they could name even one name -- would be Dan Gable, who won Olympic gold in Munich in 1972 while not giving up even a single point. The Gable legend was, over the years, further enhanced by his incredible coaching career at the University of Iowa.

There are, of course, others. Just to name a few, and the proud history of American wrestling means a list like this runs the risk of omitting many others: Lee Kemp, Dave Schultz, Steve Fraser, Bruce Baumgartner, John Smith, Cael Sanderson, Rulon Gardner, Henry Cejudo.

A few days ago, 25-year-old Jordan Burroughs won the 74-kilo/163-pound freestyle class at wrestling's world championships in Budapest, Hungary. The victory ran Burroughs' unbeaten streak to 65. The man has not lost at the senior level since he started competing internationally.

US Olympic Athlete Medalists Visit USA House

The sport of wrestling, as is widely known, got itself back into the Summer Games in 2020 and 2024 via a vote earlier this month by the International Olympic Committee's full membership in Buenos Aires. That's a big win. But, to be blunt, there's still has a long way to go. Wrestling, to sum up, has a Jordan Burroughs problem.

It's not that Jordan Burroughs himself is a problem.

Far from it.

The problem is the other way around. Who knows about Jordan Burroughs?

Now that wrestling is back in, the same energy, enthusiasm and passion that got it there has to go toward building the brand. Right now, wrestling has a window of opportunity. Burroughs is without doubt its biggest current star, particularly in the United States.

So why isn't he on SportsCenter? Leno? Letterman? Conan? The Daily Show? The Colbert Report? Making the rounds of the early-morning TV shows as well? Being offered up for bit roles in movies? For that matter, why aren't people scrambling to make documentaries about him -- or making him the centerpiece of films such as The Great Wrestling Comeback of 2013?

Wrestling is huge in Russia. Wouldn't it score political points to bring Burroughs to Sochi to have him mingle with the IOC bigwigs and maybe even Russian President Vladimir Putin himself this coming February?

Attention, Billy Baldwin. You were front and center in the months up to the IOC vote. By all accounts, you played a significant role in rallying Hollywood and even Wall Street in fund-raising drives that helped lift wrestling's profile.

Now comes Phase Two.

"The Miami Heat," Burroughs said in a phone interview, "had a 27-game winning streak. It was all on SportsCenter. It got huge press. Here I am at 65 and no one even knows.

"This is important to help the sport," he emphasized. "It is not important to me personally. It is something I wish we could do more of. It is not, let me repeat, something to me to be a self-fulfilling guy."

Burroughs is the 2012 Olympic gold medalist; the 2011 world champ; and, now, the 2013 world champion, too. He is a two-time NCAA champion, in 2009 at 157 pounds and in 2011 at 165. In 2011, he won the Hodge Trophy, wrestling's equivalent of football's Heisman.

In the final in Budapest, Burroughs defeated Iran's Ezzatollah Akbarizarinkolaei, 4-0. The victory made him the first U.S. men's freestyle wrestler to win back-to-back world titles since Smith, in 1990 and 1991. Burroughs also became only the second U.S. men's freestyle wrestler to win three straight world or Olympic titles; Smith won six straight world or Olympic titles from 1987-92.

The victory in Budapest is all the more remarkable because, as Burroughs disclosed afterward, he suffered a broken ankle training Aug. 22 in Colorado Springs, Colo.; he had surgery the next day and at the worlds still had five screws in his left ankle for stability. He guessed he was perhaps at 75 to 80 percent when he arrived in Hungary.

Burroughs is thoughtful, well-spoken, an incredible role model. He is just about to get married. He is everything USA Wrestling -- indeed, the U.S. Olympic Committee -- would want.

Even so, Jordan Burroughs could walk down most streets in the United States of America and no one would know who he is.

On most blocks they know who LeBron James is. And Peyton Manning. Switching to Olympic sports -- Michael Phelps and Apolo Ohno, too.

But not Burroughs.

That is a big problem for a sport that is -- and make no mistake about it -- still going to be fighting for its Olympic life.

As Serbia's Nenad Lalovic, the new president of FILA, the sport's international governing body, said in an interview in Buenos Aires, a couple days after the IOC vote, "This job is not finished. We are just starting."

Burroughs is a bigger star in Iran than he is in either New Jersey, where he grew up, or even Nebraska, where he went to college. This fall, Taylor Martinez, the Cornhuskers' starting quarterback, is a way bigger deal in Lincoln.

In Teheran? This past February, the U.S. team took part in a World Cup there. The just-released book "Saving Wrestling," by James V. Moffatt and Craig Sesker, is filled with inside nuggets on wrestling's path back to 2020. As the book recounts, in Teheran, after he won, Burroughs had to be pushed through the crowd by U.S. assistant coach Bill Zadick to get to the team bus.

Mind you, this was a crowd of bearded Iranian men seeking photos or an autograph from an American wrestler. The two countries' political leaders -- until President Obama's telephone call last week to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- have had no high-level contact since 1979.

Burroughs says in the book, "I received more attention there than I receive on my home soil. It was kind of like being Justin Bieber with all the attention that I was getting. It was nuts."

The competition in Iran took place just days after the IOC's policy-making executive board move to boot wrestling out of the Games.

As the saying goes, sometimes a crisis presents unexpected opportunity.

In wrestling's sake, the sport effected in seven months the sorts of changes -- political, governance, rules -- that would otherwise have taken 15 or 20 years. Or maybe longer.

"This is the best thing that ever happened to wrestling," said Jim Scherr, the former USOC chief executive who played a key role in presenting FILA's winning case to the IOC.

Among the changes were the development of women's and athletes' commissions. FILA didn't have such boards. So simple. One of the members of the new athletes' commission is American Jake Herbert, a 2012 Olympian. He called it a "step in the right direction," adding, "They are getting there."

This is the thing, though -- they are not there yet.

The sport essentially faces two big-picture challenges, all of which is clear from reading the IOC materials that led to the executive board action in the first instance:

One, it needs to do a much better job of promoting itself at the high end, meaning the creation and promotion of a brand and image for the sport and its athletes.

Two, at the grass-roots and club levels it needs to attract way more kids and young people -- boys and, in particular, girls -- and make the sport more friendly to them and their parents.

Bill Scherr is Jim's twin brother. Bill is chairman of what was called the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, and said, "All sports federations have their problems and issues. 2024 is 11 years away." Referring to FILA, he added immediately, "We face elimination again. I would think they would be motivated to make the changes necessary."

This all leads back to Jordan Burroughs.

It's not complicated. All sports thrive on stars.

When he gets back from his honeymoon, you'd like to think there would be some really smart people waiting to talk to him. With real money for a PR campaign, or two, for the sport, built around this All-American guy.

"What wrestling has done," Burroughs said, "is put itself back in the spotlight." In Rio de Janeiro, at the 2016 Games, "We are going to be one of the 'it' sports -- people are going to be watching, asking, 'Let's see why this sport deserves to be in the Olympic Games.' People are going to be paying attention.

"I think," he said, "we have all the tools."

Wrestling is back

BUENOS AIRES -- The International Olympic Committee, recognizing the gravity of its error, reinstated wrestling to the 2020 Summer Games program. At the same time, the IOC rejected bids to put squash and a combined effort from baseball/softball onto the show at the Tokyo 2020 Games, underscoring the fix it has put itself in as it seeks to keep the program relevant.

"This was a mistake," the influential Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah said before the vote to reinstate wrestling, referring to the move last February by the IOC's policy-making executive board to take it off the 2020 program.

The IOC fixed the mistake in a one-and-done vote.

What next?

Maybe, perhaps, possibly finding a way for baseball/softball to be played in Tokyo, after all. That needs to wait, though, for the new president, and some other discussions -- none of which can even begin until after Tuesday, when part three of this landmark 125th IOC session transpires, the presidential election.

Sunday saw part two, the sports vote, following Saturday's part one, the election of Tokyo, which prevailed over Istanbul and Madrid.

Six candidates are running for president: Germany's Thomas Bach; Puerto Rico's Richard Carrión; Singapore's Ser Miang Ng; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Switzerland's Dennis Oswald; and Sergei Bubka of Ukraine.

With the sports vote out of the way, there are now two full days of mostly boring reports and mundane session business to keep the members from wondering what is the best steakhouse in Buenos Aires. The real action is elsewhere -- the presidential derby and re-hashing the 2020 vote, and triangulating the influence of Sheikh Ahmad, Bach and others such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.


For sure.

When Putin took office as Russian president for the second time, on May 7, 2012, with whom did he hold his first meeting?

With Jacques Rogge.

The presentations and the vote Sunday marked just the latest step in a long-running Olympic drama. It is far from over because the IOC, frankly, has not figured out the essentials in mixing the traditional sports it has to have on the program -- track and field, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling -- with others needed to keep it fresh and interesting not just for television but to teens and young adults.

Such as, for instance, surfing and skateboarding.

The IOC in many ways has done a commendable job of adding so-called "action sports" to the Winter Games program.

The Summer program?

Over the 12 years of the Rogge presidency, the only changes to the program have been that both baseball and softball have been kicked out -- there's a cogent argument to be made that some of it is rooted in either Eurocentricism or latent anti-Americanism, the latter of which is vehemently denied -- and golf and rugby-sevens added for 2016.

For both Summer and Winter, the IOC has undertaken a laborious process designed to assign metrics to each sport -- TV viewing, internet ratings, governance categories and more -- and then tried to drop them into a group it calls the "core."

After every Games, all the sports are to be reviewed. To simplify, there is to be a new "core" every four years.

The first review -- the thing that landed wrestling on the outside this time around -- came after London. Modern pentathlon stayed inside the core. Wrestling, no.

As part of an intriguing debate that preceded Sunday's vote and presentations, Russia's Alex Popov -- the champion swimmer -- asked whether the IOC was going to have to go through the entire drama all over again in four years.

That is, he asked, was there going to be another "core" review?

Yes, Rogge said.

North Korea's Ung Chang, who typically does not ask pointed questions at the IOC's assemblies, raised his hand. He took the obvious route -- why last February was wrestling told it had to fight for a spot?

With Italy's Franco Carraro, chairman of the program commission, standing at the lectern, ready to answer, Rogge said that question clearly carried political overtones -- would you like me to answer? Everyone laughed, especially Carraro, and away Rogge went:

The wrestling federation, Rogge said, suffered from poor governance and confusing rules, and Greco-Roman was not so popular, among just a few reasons.

Meanwhile, Canada's senior member, Dick Pound, said what so many members have said privately, that to reinstate wrestling -- which was where the day was manifestly heading -- was simply taking the IOC "back to where we [had] started." What was the point?

Pound suggested the IOC take the five months between this assembly in Buenos Aires and the IOC's next full meeting, at the Sochi Games next February, to come up with a better solution.

Thank you, Rogge said, but no: "We should respect our own decisions."

First up, then, was the vote to approve the "core" group of 25 sports.

A simple majority was required to carry the vote.

The tally: 77 yes, 16 no.

Each of the three sports then made their presentations.

Baseball/softball went first.

The historical arc of what the two sports are trying to accomplish in growing worldwide is plain to see.

The games came of age in the United States in the early 20th century. Then they spread to the western hemisphere and to such Asian nations as Japan and Chinese Taipei.

Now they are taking root in Europe, Africa and elsewhere in Asia. Just as with golf, the plan is to use the Olympics as a catalyst to get bigger in growing markets.

The emotional pitch came from Don Porter, the longtime head of the softball federation. He fought back tears as he told the IOC members about 511 letters he kept in a box on his desk -- letters from girls all over the world asking for softball to be put back into the Olympics.

"I hope today you will … help restore their dreams," Porter told the IOC members.

Squash went next.

N. Ramachandran, the federation's chief, made it plain in the first few moments: "Squash represents the future, not the past." Yo, wrestling!

A video showed how you could put a glass court anywhere. The sport would need only two courts for its 64 Olympic players -- 32 men, 32 women. You can rent a court for $3,000 a day or buy two for about $500,000, Ramachandran said -- cheap. The federation has been campaigning for an Olympic spot for a full 10 years, the sort of persistence the IOC says it likes.

A teenager from the Bronx, Andreina Benedith, the United States' under-19 champion, speaking in Spanish, no less, said, "Squash changed my life."

All this was well and good.

But these two sports were up against the weight of tradition, history and politics.

"This is the most important day in the 3,000-year history of our sport," Nenad Lalovic of Serbia, the new president of FILA, the wrestling federation, said at the start of its presentation, outlining the various changes it, and the sport, had taken over the year.

He emphasized, "We are not here to speak about the past. We are here to speak about the future."

Now, FILA is a "modern, effective member of the Olympic family," he said. It promised the IOC 15 new commissions; now it has 17. It will have at least one female vice-president and on its board three seats for women and one for an athlete.

The February action by the IOC executive board, Jim Scherr, a FILA bureau member and the former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was a "wake-up call," adding, "We have made extraordinary progress over the last six months, just extraordinary," including the addition of two weight classes in Rio 2016 for women, cutting out two classes for men.

"FILA," Scherr said, "understands its responsibilities."

So, too, did the IOC.

No way, especially after Tokyo won for 2020, was wresting going to be denied. Yes, baseball is big in Japan. But Japan won six wrestling medals in London last year, second-most.

Russia won 11. Those 11 medals made up 13 percent of the Russians' 82 total in London.

As Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, posted in a photo from inside the IOC assembly hall to his Twitter feed, "Wanna see the one who would say 'no' to the legendary Karelin!;-)"

Alexander Karelin, of course, is the legendary man-mountain Greco-Roman wrestler, winning three gold medals and one silver over his Olympic career.

Reality check: if Russia, the United States, Japan and others wanted it, it was going to happen.

Super-reality check: Putin, Putin, Putin. The Sochi Games are five months away, and though wrestling is not a Winter Games sport, don't think for a second that he doesn't exert considerable influence over what is happening here.

The vote, and in the first round, with 48 needed to get back in: 49 for wrestling, 24 for baseball/softball, 22 for squash.

Now comes the intriguing possibility that five months from now the new president -- whoever he is -- will carve out an exception to the rules to allow the runner-up to be allowed a place in the Tokyo program.

One might say that's unthinkable, that IOC rules don't allow for such a thing.

Then again, last February, who would have ever thought that wrestling would have had to fight in the first instance for its place in 2020?

If you were listening closely, you might have heard Rogge drop a fascinating signal as the meeting wrapped up Sunday afternoon. He said, "Hopefully, baseball is successful in the future."


Who do you love?


BUENOS AIRES -- As circuses go, this one is most excellent. The question: who will be the next ringleader and where is the next tent to be pitched? Here Friday morning in the corner of the Hilton Hotel lobby one could see Thomas Bach of Germany, the International Olympic Committee vice president running for the top job, talking very, very quietly with Cuba's Reynaldo González López.

A few feet away, in the main hotel lobby, Her Imperial Highness Takamado of Japan held court, meeting first with Italy's Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the international skating federation, then with His Royal Highness Prince Feisal al Hussein of Jordan.

On the big screen set up just a few more feet away, the international wrestling federation's press conference got underway, the changes the IOC had sought to see from the federation dramatically evident on the dais -- here were two female wrestlers along with the new FILA president, Serbia's Nenad Lalovic.

Speaking of royalty -- here was His Imperial Basketball Highness, the former Sacramento King, Vlade Divac, near the front door, now the president of the Serbian national Olympic committee. His luggage had been lost on the way down to Buenos Aires. What was a really tall guy to do in such a situation?

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You want a story? Every few feet, every different huddle held a different story, the soundtrack of the entire thing encapsulated in George Thorogood's brilliant tour de force: who do you love?

The scramble for votes was on in full force as the landmark 125th IOC session got underway Friday night.

The 2020 vote goes down Saturday. Tokyo and Madrid seemed the likeliest choices. That said, no one was by any means willing to rule Istanbul out, and its supporters insisted they were very much still in it.

With apologies to Divac and mixed metaphors, wrestling seemed all but a slam-dunk certainty to be reinstated in voting Sunday to the 2020 program.

Los Angeles Lakers alert! Here was Divac, who of course played for L.A. before exile to Charlotte and Sacramento and then a last season in Los Angeles. Was that Pau Gasol? The current Laker big man is part of the Madrid team.

The intrigue underpinning the sports vote: which of the other two, baseball/softball or squash, will run second? Due to a quirk in the calendar, the next IOC session comes just five months from now, in Sochi in February. An entirely plausible scenario floating in the ether had it that an exception could well be carved out -- there being a new president and all -- for the runner-up here to be added to the program come 2020.

Everyone close to the Olympic scene -- repeat, everyone -- acknowledges that the process by which wrestling was first dropped and now appears on the verge of being reinstated needs wholesale review.

If Tokyo wins, imagine how easy it would be to imagine adding baseball/softball to the program.

Or adding squash, no matter which of the cities prevails.

The presidential vote -- which trumps all others, with six candidates -- happens Tuesday. That means Monday, an off day if you will, is likely to be rife with all manner of speculation, rumor, gossip and prevarications. Joining Bach on the ballot: C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Sergei Bubka of Ukraine; Denis Oswald of Switzerland.

IOC presidential elections have traditionally been subdued affairs. In the 24/7, TMZ-style world in which we now live, with camera crews scrambling for any image, the IOC is determined to keep it subdued.

This is the challenge:

The IOC received 1,846 media requests. A full 600 came from Japan; 300 from Spain; 180 from Turkey.

On Thursday, Bubka, the 1980s and '90s pole-vault champion who is now the head of his nation's Olympic committee and a vice president of the track and field international governing body, was sitting near where Bach would find himself Friday. When Bubka got up, that so stirred the camera crews that they madly began clicking and clacking.

This so unnerved the security and hotel staff that they thereupon drew the shades.

On Friday morning, the shades were still down.

This makes for an apt -- here comes that word again -- metaphor. The IOC votes in secret.

Thus here is the one absolute truth about such IOC elections:

The only thing predictable about an IOC election is that it is entirely unpredictable.

The candidate city votes happen every other year. The presidential vote is a generational thing -- every eight or 12 years, depending.

About the outcomes of either or both, this means -- as was sagely noted in the lobby -- the following:

Some people are guessing. Some pretend to know. Some assume. Some hope. No one knows.

A great many people are only too happy to lie, or maybe at least stretch the truth, or not just do what their kindergarten teacher would find wholesome.

Why do they act this way?

That's easy.

Because they can.

A skeptic would say the system encourages the members to be unaccountable.


In truth, one figures out fairly consistently who votes for what -- though, to be fair, not with 100 percent accuracy. The IOC is a club, and clubs have certain discretions. What keeps the members accountable is that -- this is for real -- they are accountable to each other. Because there are votes for bid cities every two years, and votes for the policy-making executive board every year, there are favors and counter-favors and so on. One screws someone else at one's peril because, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you.

The 2018 vote, won by Pyeongchang, was a runaway, which pretty much everyone -- except for a few affiliated with runner-up Munich -- knew going in.

The 2016 vote, won by Rio de Janeiro, was also a runaway, which Rio knew, even if others did not.

This 2020 vote does not appear to have a clear favorite. Thus the tension Friday in the Hilton lobby was very, very real, and theories fast and furious.

Right now there are, including the outgoing president Jacques Rogge, 103 IOC members. He does not vote. That means the vote count is a maximum 102. It likely will prove less because some members won't show up  -- because of illness or duties of business or state -- and because of IOC rules that prevent a member from Country X for voting from a candidate from the same nation. It is widely assumed that the winning vote total here -- majority plus one -- is going to be 48 or 49.

Because the balloting is secret, the members cheerfully tell each other whatever. In tallying up support, the denominator of 100 votes can quickly seem more like 200, indeed -- laughably -- more like 300.

"I support you," in IOC jargon, it must be understood, does not mean, "I'm going to vote for you."

"You have my vote," does not mean "in a round you want me to." Or "any particular round."

Indeed, in 2009, in balloting for the 2016 Summer Games site, the U.S. Olympic Committee felt sure before voting commenced that it had more than 30 rock-solid votes in the first round for Chicago. To the USOC's surprise, Chicago was booted in the first round with but 18 votes.

This is why, as one of the presidential contenders, surveying the scene Friday mid-afternoon, said, "Who the heck knows?" And he didn't say "heck."

This was a little bit after Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, the head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, walked in the lobby and the center of gravity seemed to shift, all eyes turning the sheik's direction. As has been speculated many times since he has become one of the Olympic world's most influential figures, with no definitive answer: how many votes does his excellency truly "control"? Any? Many?

As for the sheikh and 2020:

Does he support Tokyo? After all, he is also the longtime head of the Olympic Council of Asia. Within Olympic circles, it is hardly a secret that Tsunekazu Takeda, Japan's IOC member and the leader of the Tokyo 2020 bid, has been known to ride with the sheikh to important meetings on the sheikh's private plane.

Does he back Madrid? He and Alejandro Blanco, the head of the Spanish Olympic Committee, are known to be close through an association with Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation and, as well, the recently elected head of SportAccord, the umbrella organization for the international sports federations.

Or might the sheikh prefer Istanbul? An Istanbul win probably knocks Doha, Qatar, out of the running for the Summer Games for many years. Given the intricacies of politics in the Middle East, might the sheikh find that a play worth exploring?

The sheikh is believed to be a supporter of Bach's presidential candidacy. Ultimately -- will he be?

The sheikh likes, most of all, winning.

Actually, two more things can be said for certain about an IOC election:

One, Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, is here, lobbying for the baseball/softball project. His translator speaks English so beautifully that Shakespeare himself might want to give a listen.

Two, Sheikh Ahmad controls his own vote.


IOC short-lists three sports


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The ballroom here at the Lenexpo Convention Center here was jammed. TV crews and photographers assumed their positions, cameras trained on wrestling supporters in the front row of audience seats, immediately behind the ladies and gentlemen of the press. The tension was thick. Up on the dais, Mark Adams, the International Olympic Committee's spokesman, started to explain that the IOC's policy-making executive board had Wednesday afternoon decided to short-list just three sports for review this September by the all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. Everyone did quick math. Three sports in. That meant five were out. Which three?

Adams started to read off the first of the three: "Wrestling," he said, and in the instant before the place erupted someone in the wresting group summed it all with just one word that echoed across the hall: "Yeah!"

It took several long moments before order was restored, and Adams could then read off the other two: "Baseball and softball," he said, and then, "With apologies to the others, squash."

Jubilant wrestling officials meet the press after Wednesday's IOC executive board vote

With that, the IOC sought to turn the page in one of the most convoluted procedural and substantive fixes it has ever produced. Time, and only time, will tell whether it got this just right -- or profoundly wrong.

Cut were sport climbing, karate, roller sports, wakeboarding and the Chinese martial art of wushu.

In a statement, IOC president Jacques Rogge noted that "it was never going to be an easy decision" but this was a "good decision."

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and leading candidate to succeed Rogge in voting for the IOC presidency, said, "This is a good mixture between team sports, individual sports and martial arts."

The executive board voting Wednesday -- which followed 30-minute presentations by each of the eight sports -- proved complex. A sport made it through with a majority vote of the 14-member board; Rogge, a 15th potential ballot, did not vote.

The first round did not portend what was to come: wrestling made it through in just one ballot, with a majority of 8. The second round then took seven ballots before the combined baseball/softball bid defeated karate, 9-5. Squash got through in three rounds in the third with a majority of 8.

The IOC will pick one of the three -- or, perhaps, none -- in voting Sept. 8.

If the full membership selects wrestling for the sole vacant spot on the program, then the review process will have resulted in, essentially, no change -- at a time when the IOC is keen to be seen to be more vibrant in reaching out to a younger audience.

At the same time, the IOC has always sought to balance its traditions.

Therein lies the considerable tension.

A quick review of how the IOC got to Wednesday's action:

After every Games, the IOC reviews the line-up on the Games program.

By rule, the IOC sets these caps: 28 sports on the program and 10,500 athletes.

In 2009, the IOC decided to add rugby sevens and golf for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

For 2020, the review meant there would be 25 "core" sports plus golf and rugby. That meant -- and still means -- there would be one, and only one, open spot on the 2020 program.

In February, to considerable surprise, after its program commission -- chaired by Italy's Franco Carraro -- put every sport through a survey of 39 criteria, the executive board dropped wrestling from the core.

Wrestling's governing body, which goes by the acronym FILA, never saw it coming.

After all, wrestling had been on the ancient Games program. It had been on the program of every program in the modern Olympics.

In response, the federation got rid of its president, the Swiss Raphael Martinetti, and elected a new one, Serbian Nenad Lalovic. It enacted a series of rules changes aimed at making the sport more attractive.

"Wrestling needed to make the rules changes they did, and once they did, it gave the executive board an avenue to put wrestling on the short-list because it was a different wrestling than they saw in February," said Jim Scherr, the former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive who is now a member of the FILA bureau.

Malaysia's seven-time squash world champion, Nicol David, said, "This is a great day for squash as it takes us one step closer to realizing our long-held ambition to join the Olympic Games. I said to the executive board that the one big regret in my career is that I have never had the chance to compete in the Olympic Games, but I would happily trade all my seven world titles for the chance of Olympic gold."

Baseball and softball formed a single international federation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation. They also laid out a plan to shorten their tournament and and play at one venue. Also, Major League Baseball and its players' association sent the IOC a letter confirming "our continuing support and confidence in finding the best possible … solution" for the "participation of professional players."

IOC sports director Christophe Dubi noted, "…They gave important assurance from the leagues that solutions will be found and this was presented today."

Both baseball and softball were kicked out of the Games in 2005, effective in 2008. Baseball had become part of the Olympics in 1992, softball in 1996. Don Porter, the longtime head of the softball effort, was visibly moved.

He said, "I have been through this a long, long time. I have been disappointed before. I just hoped we had done enough.

"This is like the seventh inning. Now we are heading to the ninth. We have runners on base and are going to work hard to bring those runners home."

Lalovic, the new wrestling president, used a different metaphor:

"The match is not finished," he said, adding a moment later, "We have to stay in the Olympics. This is our goal."