By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA, July 2 (Reuters) – Despite being a pioneer of sports, wrestling struggles to win over fans after almost losing its place in the Olympic Games in 2013, when the International Olympic Committee voted to drop it from the Games programme, effective 2020.

The decision caused havoc. The president of the sport’s governing body, FILA (now United World Wrestling), resigned after a motion of no confidence. Two decorated wrestlers returned their medals, while one even went on hunger strike.

One reason for the elimination was believed to be the lack of star athletes in the sport, although it is highly popular in some countries like Iran, the United States and the hosts Japan.

IOC had cited low ticket sales, low popularity, low TV ratings, and a lack of oversight and diversity, as competitions for women were only added in 2004.

Back in 2013, the IOC also noted that the international wrestling federation had no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no women’s commission, no ethics rules for technical officials and no medical official on its executive board.

Following changes in leadership, and revisions to the programme for 2016, including rule changes and additional women’s competitions, wrestling successfully campaigned to be readmitted to Olympics.

Even so, its future remains uncertain after the next Games in 2024.

Traced back to cave drawings over 15,000 years old, wrestling is considered one of the oldest sports, believed to have been practiced since the dawn of civilisation.

Greco-Roman wrestling was the first style of wrestling included in the Games, with freestyle added in 1904.

Wrestlers engage in intense battles full of powerful and swift moves. The Russian Federation (formerly USSR) has won the most overall medals, followed by top nations like the United States, Japan, Cuba, Georgia, Iran and Turkey.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Stephen Coates)