Wrestling should be removed from the 2020 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee's Executive Board said in a surprise recommendation on Tuesday as it looks to revamp the Games sports programme.
Wrestling, contested in the first modern Olympics in 1896, will now join a list of seven other candidate sports battling for one spot on the programme. It is very unlikely, however, that it will get back in when the IOC session in Buenos Aires in September votes on the recommendation.
"This is not the end of the process, this is purely a recommendation," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters after the executive board vote. "It is the session which is sovereign."
"It was a decision to look at the core sports, what works best for the Olympic Games. This was the best programme for the 2020 Olympics. This is not about what's wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games."
The Executive Board vote comes as a major surprise after other sports, including modern pentathlon and taekwondo, were seen at risk of losing out on the Olympics due to their lower global appeal.
Board members were given a report on each of the Olympic sports which provided details on 39 criteria such as popularity, finances, tickets sold and governance, before a secret vote.
IOC sources said that in the secret ballot there were four sports battling to avoid the cut: field hockey, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and wrestling.
"I am very surprised by the result," board member and president of the International ice hockey federation Rene Fasel said. "Personally I do not know why but that is what the majority wanted."
The IOC said 25 of the 26 Olympic sports were elected as core sports for the 2020 Games which will also include rugby and golf, making their first appearance in 2016.
Wrestling will now join baseball and softball, making a joint bid, martial arts karate and wushu, rollersports, wakeboarding, squash and sports climbing as candidates for the one empty spot.
Baseball and softball were taken off the programme in 2005.
The IOC executive board will meet in St Petersburg in May to determine which of these will be put to the vote in September.
Wrestling had 344 athletes in total at the London Olympics, competing in greco-roman and freestyle disciplines.
Olympic exclusion will be a major blow to the sports popularity and financial stability as the Games are a global platform for the promotion of smaller, less established sports.
"It is very unfortunate," Satpal Singh, coach of India's two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar, said. "It is being played from the first Olympics and is played all over the world."
"Our boys performed well in London. We are coaching a young crop of wrestlers and were seriously targetting 10-12 medals in 2016 and 2020 from wrestling alone," he said.
The international wrestling federation FILA, contacted by Reuters, did not want to comment on the decision.
Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are bidding to host the 2020 Olympics with a decision also to be taken in September.
The decision, however, was welcomed by International Modern Pentathlon Union president Klaus Schorman.
"In the last few years we acted and took decisions to make our sport more telegenic and more compact," Schormann said. "So every good news is further motivation for us."