By TALES AZZONI, Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — All three sports bidding for a place in the 2020 Olympic lineup have made female participation a big part of their pitches to the IOC, hoping to convince members that they have worked hard to promote gender parity within their federations.
About 100 International Olympic Committee members will decide Sunday whether wrestling, squash or baseball-softball will be added to the program in 2020 and 2024. Each sport has been pleading its case in the weeklong IOC meetings in Buenos Aires.
Wrestling is considered the favorite after the surprise announcement in February that the IOC was removing it from the list of core Olympic sports. Squash, offering a flexible and cost-effective option with potential to find eye-catching locations, is trying to make the list for the third time, while baseball united with softball to try to return after being dropped for the 2012 and 2016 Games.
The vote for the host city of the 2020 Games will take place Saturday, and the new IOC president will be chosen Tuesday.
Wrestling's governing body, FILA, gave women a bigger role in decision making as part of the body's restructuring after the February announcement. Women were given a vice president's position and a women's sports commission was also created.
"There have been quite a few great changes over the last six months," said Canadian wrestler Carol Huynh, who is part of the wrestling delegation in Buenos Aires. "It's been very exciting. We have a strong voice as women in the FILA bureau. And FILA is strongly encouraging national federations to encourage women to be in higher positions within their national federations."
The sport also added two weight classes for women beginning at the 2016 Rio Games.
"That in itself is a huge sign that women are on the rise in wrestling," Huynh said Friday.
Wrestling had to rush to promote all-around changes to the sport after being caught by surprise by the IOC decision in February. It also adopted rule changes to make the sport easier to understand and more fun to watch, and made improvements to its commercial and marketing departments.
Women's softball and men's baseball failed in separate bids for reinstatement, so they merged into a single federation to improve their chances.
These are two of the most popular sports in the world," said Riccardo Fraccari, co-president of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation. "If the goal is to bring more women into sports, softball can do this better than almost any other sport. Softball and baseball have the unique ability to connect with young people and women in all countries."
The two sports are also promoting their efforts against doping, including citing MLB's recent sanctions to players, and to allow professional athletes to play in the Olympic tournament, which could be achieved by making the competition shorter — over five days for each baseball and softball.
"We are planning our bid around the priorities of the Olympic movement," Fraccari said. "We are confident that we can help further strengthen the Olympic movement."
The federation had to defend its use of Antonio Castro, the son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is in the team trying to convince IOC members that the sport should return to the lineup.
"He has been involved in our sport for many, many years," said WBSC co-president Don Porter. "We welcome him and what he has done to promote baseball and softball. It goes to show that we are all together in sports. We are not about politics."
Castro said "this is very a good moment to speak about baseball and softball. I'm here to speak about the Olympic movement."
The World Squash Federation said the sport has been embracing gender parity for quite some time, with many events offering equal prize money for men and women.
"Squash has been played by men and women, boys and girls, for many, many years," said former women's squash world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, of Australia. "I grew up in equality in that way, so there is no problem with the amount the women that will be present (at the games). It will be equal to the men."
Squash is delivering a more dynamic and television-friendly game to answer constructive criticism following two previous failed attempts to gain a spot on the Olympic program. It also hails the fact that it would be the only new sport in the lineup and that it would only add 64 athletes to the games.
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