LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AFP) - Wrestling, an Olympic sport since the first Games in ancient Greece, looks set to be dropped for the 2020 edition, after the International Olympic Committee voted on Tuesday to remove it from the programme.
The decision, taken by the 15 members of the IOC executive board, has yet to be ratified by all members of the body but looks likely to be ditched, as seven other disciplines compete for the vacant spot in seven years' time.
Wrestling was always last in the four rounds of voting and in the final round registered 8 votes to expel it with modern pentathlon - which had been seen as the one most likely to lose out - getting three as did field hockey.
Taekwondo bowed out in the third round of voting with no-one voting for its expulsion.
An IOC source told AFP that the outcome was "a real shock", after modern pentathlon was expected to be the one sport removed from the list of 25 core sports for the Games to be held in either Tokyo, Istanbul or Madrid.
"Wrestling was not on the radar," the source said.
"The trouble was while modern pentathlon and taekwondo did effective lobbying, wrestling thought they were safe and did none at all." Wrestling will remain on the programme for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro but its likely disappearance will leave the Games without one of the few sports that survived from ancient times into the modern era.
It first appeared in 708 BC and has only ever not appeared at an Olympic Games in 1900.
Amateur wrestling's world governing body the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) said it was stunned by the news, as was Vitaly Mutko, sports minister of one of wrestling powerhouses Russia.
Russian Wrestling Federation president Mikhail Mamiashvili said he was shocked by the news while Mutko added: "I am astonished by this idea. It's hard to understand the IOC's motives and we need to hear explanations.
"It seems very strange to us, wrestling is a very popular sport played by millions of people. We hope that reason will triumph," he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
The United States Olympic Committee also voiced its surprise and said that the fight for wrestling's future was far from over.
"Given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality, we were surprised when the decision was announced," said their chief executive Scott Blackmun in a statement.
"It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world." There was anger too from where the ancient Games began in Greece.
Greek wrestling federation president Kostas Thanos said it was 'sacrilege'.
"I don't believe the decision will stand in the plenary session of the IOC in September," he told Athens radio station NovaSport 94.6FM.
"Wrestling is a sport that is identified with the Olympics and we cannot throw away a symbol such as wrestling. The way they are going they may even remove the name Olympics." Wrestling is now fighting for a single place as an additional sport in 2020 against squash, roller sports, softball/baseball, karate, the martial art wushu, the water sport wakeboard and sport climbing.
Softball and baseball have teamed up after both were voted off the programme in 2009.
A decision will be made on which sport makes the cut will be taken at an IOC EB meeting in St Petersburg in May, before both recommendations are put to all members of the IOC in Buenos Aires in September.
Squash and karate are generally seen to be leading the race.
In theory, wrestling still has a chance of being reinstated if non-executive committee members vote against the ruling.
Modern pentathlon's survival on Tuesday is a major coup for Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, vice-president of the sport's governing body and a member of the IOC executive board, who is also a prominent member of Madrid's 2020 bid.
The discipline was widely seen to be at risk as it is expensive to compete in and does not attract a broad range of nations.