07/19/2013 08:46 EDT | Updated 09/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Wrestling gets boost from Olympic birthplace in bid to restore sport at games

ATHENS, Greece - Wrestlers participating in an international tournament have been granted rare access to compete at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece as part of a campaign to keep the sport from being dropped after the 2016 Games.

The site at Ancient Olympia, 320 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Athens, is normally off limits to sporting competitions and is used for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony.

The 15-country tournament will take place on Saturday and Sunday.

Wrestling was one of the sports at the ancient Olympics, which also included running, boxing, long jump, javelin and discus.

"This was the birthplace of wrestling ... so we are going back to our roots," Nenad Lalovic, the head of the sport's governing body, said Friday. "We were very happy to be allowed to use a place like this for a wrestling tournament — and we're very thankful."

The IOC in February dropped wrestling from a list of core sports, leaving it to compete for a place in the 2020 Games against baseball and squash.

A decision will be taken in September, when the IOC's executive board meets in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to select the host city for those Olympics, with Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid in the running.

Lalovic, a 55-year-old Serb, took over the federation after the sport's exclusion, and said he hoped sweeping changes to the body's operating rules and new international competition rules for the sport would help get wrestling re-instated.

"We had a medieval constitution and we changed that," he said. "The Olympic Games are limited by the number of disciplines, and of course everyone who doesn't follow the instructions of the organizers must be punished. It's like having a very fast car and ignoring the speed limit."

The campaign to restore wrestling to the Olympics has received enthusiastic backing from Greek sporting authorities and the conservative-led government, which agreed to host the weekend events despite steep cuts in public funding due to the country's financial crisis and international bailout.

"We are determined to offer every possible form of support to keep wrestling in Olympic competition," Yiannis Andrianos, a deputy minister for sport, said earlier this week. "It's an obligation we have both to modern Olympic history ... and in our roles as guardians of the heritage and spirit of the ancient games. Wrestling is a connection between the two."