By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - Wrestling, axed from the 2020 Olympic programme by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in February, has a good chance of coming back after making sweeping changes, IOC Vice President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.
Wrestling, squash and a joint bid by baseball and softball have been picked as the three candidate sports, one of which will fill the spot for the 2020 Olympics left vacant by wrestling in an IOC vote in September.
"I have the impression that the international federation (FILA) has understood very well the messages sent to them," Bach, who is a frontrunner in the IOC presidential race, told the Foreign Press Association (VAP) in Berlin.
"The international federation has drawn its conclusions. It is now here with a new president, new programme and new ideas for the sport. That is why I personally believe that wrestling has good chances to come through the vote in September."
FILA launched a frantic race to make the candidate sports shortlist in May after it was stunned in February when the IOC took the sport, practiced as far back as the ancient Olympics, off the Games programme for the first time since 1900.
It changed its leadership and passed a string of new rules to make the sport more exciting and fair while also introducing sweeping changes in the federation's structure and operation.
The IOC will elect the winning sport at its session in Buenos Aires on September 8.
Bach is preparing for an election of his own two days later, running against five other IOC members for the top Olympic job.
Being the favorite to succeed outgoing president Jacques Rogge, however, is no guarantee of success in the election as Bach looks to become the first Games gold medalist to lead the world's biggest multi-sports organization.
The German lawyer said he hoped his credentials as an Olympic champion and IOC veteran would inspire confidence in his candidacy.
"I'm looking forward to the vote and as a sportsman I naturally want to win the competition," Bach said when asked if the status of being the long-time favorite for one of the biggest jobs in sports administration was a burden or an advantage.
"I'm preparing myself as best as I can for the 'final competition'," added Bach, 59. "I hope I can win the confidence of my fellow IOC members. But as a sportsman I know that even if the preparations are ideal you can still end up losing on the day of the event. It's going to be an exciting day on September 10."
Bach has what might seem like impeccable qualifications for the presidency - he won a fencing gold medal in 1976, has been an IOC member since 1991, chaired the IOC juridical and anti-doping commissions and has negotiated broadcasting rights.
"I hope the credentials I've built up over the years will help inspire confidence in my candidacy among other IOC members," said Bach, an affable man from the southern German town of Tauberbischofsheim who also speaks English, French and Spanish.
Also running are IOC Vice President Ng Ser Miang from Singapore, Swiss Denis Oswald, world amateur boxing federation head C.K. Wu, Ukraine's former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka and Richard Carrion, head of the IOC finance commission and, along with Bach, a chief IOC negotiator for broadcast rights.
Bach sidestepped questions about his odds of winning in Argentina but flashed a smile when asked about winning the team fencing world championship in 1977, also in Buenos Aires.
"We were behind 7-1 and won 8-8 on the number of touches," he said. "I still get goose bumps thinking about that."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)