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RICH BENDER COLUMN: Wrestling is ready for this challenge!!
The Olympic Games provides wrestling with unique promotional opportunities and gives our sport relevance all over the globe. Our sport’s formal history dates back to the ancient Olympics in 708 B.C. and signs of our sport have been identified in cave drawings back to 3,000 B.C. Wrestling has been a part of each of the Modern Olympic Games since 1896, when the new Olympic Games were formally re-introduced.
More different countries won medals in wrestling than nearly every sport on the Olympic program including sports such as swimming, which awards many more medals. This fact alone provides justification for wrestling to rightfully be included on the Olympic Games program. It shows our universal reach.
Based upon yesterday’s IOC Executive Committee recommendation that wrestling not be a core sport for the 2020 Olympics, our sport has a difficult battle ahead, but it is definitely winnable. In just a few short months, this same 15-member group will meet again in St. Petersburg, Russia to decide which three of the following eight sports (baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboard, wushu and wrestling) will be brought forward to the 114 person General Assembly.
The General Assembly will then take two votes: First, do they agree with the Executive Board’s Recommendation to eliminate wrestling from the core program (if the General Assembly disagrees, we are back on the program). If they agree, the next vote will be for which of the three sports will be on the 2020 program.
We must over the next short weeks do all in our power to “win friends and influence people.” To do this, we have engaged many of the most connected and brightest minds in our sport. This group will be led by Bill Scherr (World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist) Bill represented the Chicago 2016 bid and has personal relationships with nearly every Executive Board Member. Bill will be joined by his brother Jim Scherr. As we all know, Jim led the United States Olympic Committee for nearly eight years and has many personal connections to IOC Members. Also joining the battle will be successful international business leaders Andy Barth, Jeff Levitetz, John Bardis, Art Martori and our President James Ravannack. I will also direct my full attention to this fight. World and Olympic champions Bruce Baumgartner, John Smith, Rulon Gardner and Dan Gable and two-time Olympians Kerry McCoy and Clarissa Chun will handle our heavy lifting. Rounding out our strong team will be our spokesperson Mike Novogratz. Folks, we’ve established this All-Star cast to take the fight to the IOC. We have a great opportunity to show the world that wrestling belongs and that when the going gets tough, the stars and stripes are who you want on your team. In addition to this team we will be hiring several public relations experts to shape and refine our strategy.
Initially, we will turn our focus within our borders. We have established several touch points and informational portals for the wrestling community to use to help and stay informed, all of these will be accessible through TheMat.com. We endeavor for anyone that believes as we do to join the fight. What does that mean? Signing petitions, writing letters, making phone calls, donating resources, doing radio and TV interviews and most importantly being available on a moment’s notice to act on behalf of the effort.
Next and nearly simultaneously, USA Wrestling and the international wrestling community will begin our work on the IOC. We will reach out to each and every member and ask for their support. We will also provide facts and results about our sport’s rich and vast history. We will call in every chip we have with IOC members and ask for their support. We are also investigating possible ways that previous decisions could be re-addressed and maybe even reverse the decision to drop any sports from the program. The focus will be to rally the sport worldwide. I leave for Iran on Monday and will be meeting with wrestling leaders from Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Belarus, all nations devastated by this decision. We will also reach out to wrestling powers such as India, Japan, Korea, Cuba and others. This battle cannot be won by us alone and we must help organize the world wrestling powers.
Finally we will work as hard as we can to help FILA, the International Wrestling Federation, prepare their formal presentation to the IOC Executive Board. Although these are times when we could easily look to blame someone for this poor decision, we will not focus on that at this time. The International Federation must be the one that makes the formal presentation on behalf of our sport. We will also use this opportunity to call for sweeping changes in our international governing body. As a sport internationally, we cannot go on as business as usual. If changes in rules, policies and procedures are needed, we will boldly point them out. That starts today.
Friends, USA Wrestling will also self review as well. Where changes are needed and new opportunities identified within our organization, we will put them into action. Our sport and athletes deserve that.
Wrestling remains strong in our country. College and High School Championships are more popular than ever. More wrestlers are participating in the sport than ever in our history. USA Wrestling has been setting monthly membership records for several years straight. Sponsor and support at all levels is at an all-time high. Because of this, we are well prepared for this fight.
The United States Olympic Committee has also pledged their full support. With wrestling as the No. 4 medal producing sport for the United States, they will continue to support our efforts and be an active resource going forward.
We ask you to stay involved and stay informed. Visit TheMat.com. Go to our Facebook page “Keep Wrestling In the Olympics.” Donate if you can.
In closing, I reach out to our wrestlers, young and old. You motivate us to fight to the end on this matter. I encourage you to train now harder than ever. Your opportunity will come to make a difference for our sport both on and off the mat.
In the Olympic Spirit,
USA Wrestling Executive Director