MAKHACHKALA, Russia, February 28 (R-Sport) - The speaker of Dagestan's regional legislature has asked an Olympic wrestling champion to refrain from returning his gold medal in protest at the sport being cut from the Games.
The IOC's executive board voted earlier this month to remove wrestling from the list of confirmed sports for the 2020 Olympics, and it must now battle seven candidate disciplines for the sole remaining slot.
Sagid Murtazaliev, who won heavyweight freestyle gold for Russia at Sydney 2000, said he was following the example of Bulgarian champion Valentin Yordanov, who sent back his Atlanta 1996 gold medal last week.
But the parliamentary speaker in his native Dagestan said that by doing so, Murtazaliev would deprive the region's people of sporting glory.
"I have a big request," Khizri Shikhsaidov said Thursday. "Do not return the medal. Don't give it to anyone. That medal belongs to the people of Dagestan, including to me and to all those who passionately followed and supported you."
Shikhsaidov's address was met with loud applause from the people's assembly.
In a letter sent to IOC president Jacques Rogge and obtained by RIA Novosti, Murtazaliev had said "the decision to return my Olympic medal was not easy for me."
“But after much thinking, I decided anyway to follow the example of the great Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Yordanov. I took this step in protest at the recommendation the IOC executive committee recently made to exclude wrestling from the Olympic program.”
The final decision on the Olympic program for the 2020 Games will be made by the IOC in Buenos Aires in September, along with the announcement of the host city.
Wrestling has been included in various forms at every Olympics since 1904. In recent years, it has attracted scant spectator interest outside its stronghold countries and faced claims of corrupt refereeing at the Games.
Russia is a perennial power in Olympic wrestling, and President Vladimir Putin and the country's national Olympic committee have both thrown their weight behind the sport's reinstatement.