By Graham Wood
ATHENS (Reuters) - International wrestling president Nenad Lalovic hopes showcasing the modern face of the sport in a tournament at Ancient Olympia will convince the IOC to include wrestling at the 2020 Games.
In a move that stunned the sporting world, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took wrestling off the program in February, though it later joined baseball/softball and squash as one of three sports to be considered for inclusion in 2020.
The IOC will elect the winning sport at its session in Buenos Aires on September 8.
Serb Lalovic, who was elected president of the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) after a vote of no confidence triggered the resignation of Raphael Martinetti, said the one-off tournament would deliver a message to the IOC.
"This is the first time that such an event has been organized and we hope that it will send a powerful symbolic message, as well as a tangible one, about the importance of the sport to the Olympics and its place as a stunning spectacle," Lalovic told Reuters.
Wrestlers from around the world including Britain, Iran, Russia and the United States, will gather at Olympia, in the Western Peloponnese area of Greece, on Sunday to participate in the event.
"The Greek government have played a major part in helping to set it up .... and we are confident that it can provide the climax to the huge efforts we have made since February in our Save Olympic Wrestling campaign," added Lalovic, who will lead the federation's final presentation to the IOC in Argentina.
One of the main criticisms of wrestling is that the technical and tactical side of the sport makes for cagey matches that are not the most thrilling for viewers.
Lalovic, however, believes that new rules passed by the FILA in May encourage wrestlers to be more aggressive and attack-minded, which in turn will make for a more exciting spectacle.
"Wrestling is an ancient sport which is in need of modernizing, and with the new rules we have introduced, will surely make it more spectacular as well as easier to understand for the average spectator," said Lalovic.
"Generally we are optimistic that we can remain in the Olympics but rest assured our fight does not end there. We want to make sure we are there in the long term so that is why we have changed the rules and sought to modernize."
Greek Wrestling Federation President Kostas Thanos described the IOC's decision to drop the sport as "sacrilege".
"It is a great honor to host such an event at the birthplace of the Olympic Games," said Thanos.
"We are excited and feel confident this event will echo to the world the historic importance of the sport of wrestling as an integral part of the Modern Olympic Games as it was for the ancient Games," he added.
Wrestling, which featured in the first modern Games in 1896 and all editions since apart from 1900, was also a sport of the ancient games in Olympia.
Wrestlers at the event will have the rare opportunity to walk the grounds of Ancient Olympia, including the Palaestra (ancient wrestling school) and the Stadium at Olympia.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)