Will squash be able to grapple with Wrestling for 2020 spot?
The battle for the final spot at the 2020 Olympics has entered its business end with wrestling, squash and a combined bid from baseball-softball hoping to emerge stronger than ever from their existence crisis when the full IOC assembly will take a call on their future tomorrow.
The crucial vote during the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina will see the culmination of a contest that began two years ago. One of the sports will join the 2020 Summer Games while the others will be left to ponder about their future outside of the Olympic programme.
Squash seems to be a front-runner in the battle of survival after the World Squash Federation, headed by its president N Ramachandran, delivered a dynamic and television-friendly presentation to the IOC Executive Board in Russia on May 29 before being shortlisted for tomorrow's vote.
This is the third consecutive bid by squash to join the Games and journey to get here has been a long one - 10 years in fact - having failed in 2005 in Singapore and 2009 in Denmark.
The WSF delegation is increasingly hopeful that its case to join the Games will succeed.
"Squash's journey to join the Olympic Games has been a long one. Our current bid began in earnest two years ago and over this time we have been through a robust process and travelled the world presenting our case. Sunday's presentation will be the culmination of a 10-year campaign by Squash to join the Olympic Games," said Ramachandran.
"Squash can offer something exciting to the Olympic experience. Squash would be low cost and easy to integrate into the Games with just 64 athletes. We could share a venue if required, or be located to showcase an iconic backdrop - such as in front of the Pyramids.
"We are a genuinely global sport, played in 185 countries by many millions across the world. We are growing in regions such as South America, central Europe, China, and India as well as in the more traditional areas including the United States. On Sunday, we demonstrate to the IOC that Squash is a sport that represents the future, not the past," he added.
Australia's Sarah Fitz-Gerald, five-time winner of the World Open and part of the delegation, said: "Squash can honestly say that we are now more than ready. Our sport has been on a journey of innovation in recent years. All-glass courts, referee video review, lighting and music have radically enhanced the spectator experience."
Nearly seven months (February 12) after wrestling was dealt a severe blow by the IOC, the world federation, FILA, made sweeping amendments to make the sport more spectator-friendly and paved the way for greater participation of women in decision making bodies.
The body also put forth equal number of weight categories for women from next Olympics onwards as compared to men who participate in Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling.
The futuristic approach prompted the IOC Executive Board to shortlist the game for a final vote. The changes were well received by the outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge and vice president and his likely successor Thamas Bach.
Other things which may work in favour of wrestling, which has 177 federations on six continents, is the wide range of medal winners. Last year in London, a record-setting 71 countries qualified for the Olympic Games with representatives from 29 countries earning 72 medals on offer.
Indian wrestlers have won four medals so far at the Olympics, right from KD Jadhav's bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games to Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt's silver and bronze medals respectively in the London Olympics. Sushil had also won a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, turning out as India's most successful Olympian in individual sport.
Wrestling has a realistic chance of making a comeback into the Olympic fold with strong backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin and support garnered from the United States and Iran.
Meanwhile, baseball and softball joined forces in their bid to again become part of the Olympic movement. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is spearheading the campaign for reinstatment.
The joint bid has found support from US softball legend Jennie Finch and Japan's Sadaharu Oh. Softball is played in more than 140 countries, especially in Muslim nations.