STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Oh, the sport of wrestling was given a reprieve by an International Olympic Committee. The question here is which sports will be part of the 2020 and 2024 Summer Games, and we're delighted to tell you that wrestling beat out squash as well as a combined bid by baseball and softball for inclusion. It's a happy outcome for wrestling, but there are questions about whether the selection process served the goal of breathing new life into the games. NPR's Mike Pesca is in Buenos Aires where IOC members are meeting. He has this report.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Give them this, the International Olympic Committee knows how to stage a moment of triumph. IOC president Jacques Rogge and his staff know any award plays better when you can see the faces of the winners.
JACQUES ROGGE: Before announcing the result, may I ask our staff to bring the federation back in the room?
PESCA: So there linking arms were members of three sports federations. Squash had brought the world number one player to Buenos Aires to say I would trade all my titles for an Olympic gold. Wrestling featured a Baldwin brother, Billy, to add some Hollywood glitz. Baseball had brought Antonio Castro, son of Fidel, to impart their bid with a certain flavor. When told of Castro's presence, Billy Baldwin quipped...
BILLY BALDWIN: The Baldwins are known for being slightly left, but not that far left.
PESCA: And so all the sports waited, pumping out a different kind of sweat than the variety normally secreted. Finally, President Rogge proclaimed...
ROGGE: With 49 votes wrestling has been elected for...
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PESCA: In dank suburban gyms, from Ames to Ashgabat, they cheered. The sport of Hercules, Gabrielle and Dan Gable would continue on. But wait. How did it get to this point? IOC member Dick Pound says one Olympic body nullifying the actions of a different Olympic body does not a triumph make.
DICK POUND: I don't think the process worked at all. I mean, the proof of that pudding is here we are now having gone through all of these hoops back to where we were. With no new sport.
PESCA: To backtrack: last February, the Olympic executive board excluded wrestling. Now, half a year later, the broader International Olympic Committee included that sport in the games. Yet this was being hailed as the system working - sending a message to the sport of wrestling to reform, modernize, engage.
Olympic medal winning wrestler and former CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee Jim Scherr says the Games are better off with wrestling , though the entire ordeal was less than gold plated.
JIM SCHERR: Maybe not a good result for a messy process with the IOC, but I think it's a good result for the Olympic Games and a good result for wrestling.
PESCA: Scherr is now a member of wrestling's board, a board that's been overhauled and that has opened the sport to reform. That alone is why Alex Gilady, IOC member from Israel, says...
ALEX GILADY: The process is perfect. Every sport federation should know that their participation in Olympics is not a god-given right.
PESCA: So through cauliflower ears, wrestling got the message. But the IOC delivered it bluntly, and effectively forestalled inclusion of a new sport like squash, or a revamped effort, like the softball/baseball bid. Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member from the U.S.A., concedes that against an established sport, newcomers have long odds.
ANITA DEFRANTZ: I feel very badly, for softball in particular, and softball-baseball. We have seven billion people in the world and only 10,500 athletes seems to be very modest.
PESCA: For some of the hundred or so members of the IOC, the outcome of the wrestling vote doesn't obscure underlying questions of fairness; doing right not just by members of the Olympic family, but by those hoping to be invited in. Tomorrow, the IOC will hold another election. Several current members say that the issues raised by wrestling's travails will be at the heart of their vote for the new Olympic president. Mike Pesca, NPR News, Buenos Aires.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.