March 6 - Wrestling legends Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho today helped promote Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics even though their sport may not feature in the Games.
Yoshida and Icho, both winners of three consecutve gold medals each at the last three Olympics, including London 2012, were on hand to greet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission, led by Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, during a visit to the Tokyo Big Sight.
Tokyo Big Sight is is the popular nickname for the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, the sprawling complex opened in 1996 located in Tokyo Bay, which would play host to fencing and taekwondo if the Japanese capital wins its bid to host the Games, as well as be home to the Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre.
It would also stage wrestling if the sport can successfully reverse last month's decision by the IOC's ruling Executive Board to cut it from the list of core Olympic sports after Rio 2016.
"I don't have a vote, but I would at least like to go to the presentation," said Yoshida, the dominat fighter in the 55 kilogram category who carried Japan's flag at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of London 2012.
"The only thing I can do is pray that wrestling stays in."
Tomoaki Fukuda, President of the Japan Wrestling Federation and a vice-president of wrestling's international governing body FILA, also spoke briefly to the Commission which, beside Sir Craig, included IOC members Switzerland's Patrick Baumann, Germany's Claudia Bokel, France's Guy Drut, Namibia's Frankie Fredericks and Thailand's Nat Indrapana.
About 300 young local wrestlers had lined the entrance to the Toky Big Sight, with some holding a banner that simply read "Wrestling".
"I can only say that I am in a very delicate position now, but I thank you very much for coming," Fukuda told the IOC Evaluation Commission.
Japan, along with Russia and the United States, is spearheading the campaign to try to ensure that wrestling remains in the Olympics.
"FILA wants to follow the standards set by the IOC for the May presentation," Fukuda said.
"We will discuss our options with experts and give a strong presentation."
Fukuda claimed he had resisted the temptation to appeal directly to the IOC members to support wrestling.
"Today we have to consider the [Tokyo 2020] bid," he said.
"So this is very complicated and delicate.
"But just having the four gold medallists here leaves a good impression.
"We hope that they understood this."
Earlier, wrestling's campaign had been given another boost when John Coates, President of the Australian Olympic Committee and a member of the IOC Executive Board which made the decision to axe wrestling, admitted he believed the decision would be overturned.
Coates predicted that could spell bad news for the joint bid from baseball and softball, trying to regain their place on the programme after they themselves were controversially removed following Beijing 2008.
Wrestling and baseball/softball are both due to give a presentation to the IOC's Executive Board, when they next meet in St Petersburg between May 29 and 31, along with climbing, karate, roller sports, squash, wakeboarding and wush, who are all bidding to become part of the Olympic programme in 2020.
After each sport has given its presentation it is expected that the IOC Executive Board will select up to three sports and then let the full membership decide on which one to choose at the Session in Buenos Aires in September.
"I would be very surprised if wrestling isn't one of those [on the shortlist] and you could well get a very different result when there's 115 people voting as opposed to 14," said Coates.
"So all we've done is a recommendation.
"My guess is, the one that will find it most difficult because of the groundswell of support for wrestling is going to be the baseball-softball combination, because both those sports and wrestling very much depend on the Americas."
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