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Wrestling pledges changes but running out of time

Kazakhstan's Akzhurek Tanatarov (in blue) fights with Turkey's Ramazan Sahin for the bronze medal of the Men's 66Kg Freestyle wrestling at t
Kazakhstan's Akzhurek Tanatarov (in blue) fights with Turkey's Ramazan Sahin for the bronze medal of the Men's 66Kg Freestyle wrestling at t

BERLIN (Reuters) - Wrestling will implement a string of immediate changes as the sport seeks to win back its Olympic spot with time fast running out, acting international federation (FILA) president Nenad Lalovic said on Thursday.

Lalovic, speaking after a meeting with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge in Lausanne, said he had presented all the actions undertaken by the federation to modernize their sport and remain in the Games.

"I pointed out the fact that we were going in a wrong direction in the last few years and that we in no way blame the decision of the IOC," Lalovic told Reuters. "We have to fix the problems we have in wrestling."

Last month the sport was surprisingly dropped from a list of core Olympic sports for the 2020 Games, forcing it to join seven other candidate sports that will battle it out for the one vacant spot when the IOC session votes in September in Buenos Aires.

It still needs, however, to make an IOC shortlist of sports in St Petersburg in May to be put to the vote in September.

"Time is too short," said the Serbian who took over from Raphael Martinetti who resigned days after their shock Olympic exit. "Our competitors had two years to prepare and we have 2-1/2 months. Looking from that angle it is a very bad position."

The other candidate sports are karate, wushu, wakeboarding, sports climbing, roller sports, squash and a joint bid from baseball and softball.

"If we are among those sports (to make the shortlist) that will be the first success for us," Lalovic said.

Among the most urgent changes are the creation or reform of a number of federation commissions, including bringing in active athletes into the athletes commission, as well as rule changes.

RULE CHANGES

"We will already start the referee commission and until the end of April we will finish with all the work for new rules but in the meantime we will work with the sports commission of IOC to make the rules adapted to the IOC requirements."

Three-times Olympic champion Alexander Karelin of Russia - the most famous Olympic wrestler of his generation after winning gold in three consecutive Games - was also brought into the athletes commission to add weight.

The IOC's exclusion of a sport that featured in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and every Games since, apart from 1900, has triggered an angry backlash from the world of wrestling.

From former champions sending their medals back to the IOC in protest to petitions being signed in the United States and Japan to bring the sport back, wrestling has grabbed the headlines over the past few weeks.

"We are among eight sports," Lalovic said. "We have made a few mistakes in our sport and organization, we are going to fix these mistakes to show that we can change fast and fix problems."

Lalovic, who said he would run as presidential candidate at FILA's extraordinary congress that must be held before the IOC meeting in May, is eager to get another chance at convincing IOC members.

Several of them have publicly expressed their surprise at the sport's exclusion with modern pentathlon seen most at risk before the February vote along with taekwondo.

"We now have to prepare our presentation and explain to those IOC members who did not vote for us to vote for us in May," he said.

"I have always the feeling of optimism. Maybe we will succeed. We have many arguments."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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