Makhachkala (Russia), Feb 26 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Sydney Olympics gold medallist wrestler Sagid Murtazaliev has sent his gold medal back to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in protest at the sport being cut from the Summer Games.
The IOC's executive board voted earlier this month to cut wrestling from the list of confirmed sports for the 2020 Olympics, and the sport must now battle seven candidate disciplines for the sole remaining slot.
Russia's Murtazaliev, who won heavyweight freestyle gold at Sydney 2000, said he was following the example of Bulgarian champion Valentin Yordanov, who sent back his Atlanta 1996 gold medal last week.
"The decision to return my Olympic medal was not easy for me," Murtazaliev said in a letter addressed to IOC president Jacques Rogge and obtained by RIA Novosti.
"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 programme."
The final decision on the Olympic programme 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.
Wrestling's cause has brought together unlikely allies, with US and Iranian national Olympic officials among those to call for the sport's reinstatement.
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.