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Scherr, Bender outline plan for ensuring that wrestling stays in Olympic Games

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A worldwide effort to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympic Games and beyond continues to gain momentum and support.

Past U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr and USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender outlined steps that are being taken to ensure the sport’s future during a USA Wrestling Teleconference on Thursday afternoon.

Scherr and Bender were joined during the session by 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott.

The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee recommended at its Feb. 12 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to not include wrestling as a core sport in the program for the 2020 Olympic Games. It is a recommendation only at this time.

Bender spent last week at the World Cup in Tehran, Iran, helping build a coalition of countries to challenge this IOC recommendation. Wrestling strongholds Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and the United States were among the countries in that group.

“This is an exciting time for us to move forward and make some necessary changes,” Bender said. “It's a difficult challenge for the sport, but also a significant opportunity to make some real and lasting changes.”

Scherr, a newly-appointed FILA Bureau member, is helping spearhead the International wrestling federation’s efforts to keep wrestling in the Olympics. He has just returned from Switzerland, headquarters of FILA. He’s currently the commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Scherr is a past Executive Director of USA Wrestling.

Scherr is part of the leadership change at FILA where Raphael Martinetti stepped down as the organization’s president shortly after the recommendation by the IOC Executive Board to remove wrestling from the core list of Olympic sports. Nenad Lalovic of Serbia is now serving as the acting president of FILA.

“Everything is going very, very well,” Scherr said. “When I first heard about this, I was as surprised and distressed as anyone who has been part of the wrestling community in the United States and around the world. We are working closely with Lalovic and other FILA Bureau members and working with the IOC to have wrestling remain as one of the core sports programs at the Olympics. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do.”

Lalovic is scheduled to meet with IOC President Jacques Rogge on March 7 at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Scherr said rules changes are expected to be made to make the sport easier to understand and more dynamic, and more enticing for spectators who watch the sport in person and on television.

Adding diversity to the FILA Bureau and becoming more aggressive with sponsorship and marketing are among other initiatives that are in the works.

“Wrestling has already taken steps to progress in certain areas,” Scherr said. “The leadership of FILA has changed and I believe there will be sweeping changes that will be refreshing for the worldwide wrestling community.”

Scherr and his twin brother, Bill, are heading up a committee of highly-respected leaders within the American wrestling community has been formed, whose mission is to ensure that wrestling remains as a core sport of the Olympic Games.

The group is called the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling (CPOW), and is chaired by Bill Scherr, a World champion and Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, who help spearhead the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid effort and is a top businessman in the financial services industry.

Jim Scherr said over $1 million has already been raised through contributions in this country to help the U.S. in its pursuit of keeping wrestling in the Olympics. The goal is to raise much more in assisting with the cause. Contributions can be made by going to:

Scott recently competed at the World Cup in Iran, where 10 competing countries came together in a show of support for Olympic wrestling. Scott and the U.S. wrestled in front of enthusiastic sellout crowds of 13,000 fans in Tehran.

The U.S. team shook hands and posed for photos with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the event.

“The support they showed for the wrestlers, not only toward the Iranian wrestling team but every other team that was there, I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Scott said. “We have to bond as a worldwide community to keep wrestling in the Games. It was outstanding to see they are just as passionate about the sport as we are.

“The people in Iran have the same feelings we do. They were just as devastated as we were when they heard the news.”

Two dates are vitally important to reverse this recommendation by the IOC:

May 24-27, St. Petersburg, Russia
The IOC Executive Board will hear presentations from the following sports: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboard, wrestling and wushu. Up to three of those sports will move forward for final consideration at the General Session of the IOC in September.

Sept. 4-7, Buenos, Aires, Argentina
The 114-member IOC General Session will have two votes. The first is to accept or reject the Executive Board’s recommendation to drop wrestling from the Games. If that’s upheld, the IOC members will then vote to select one of the three sports forwarded by the Executive Board for inclusion on the Olympic Program in 2020.

There were 71 countries that competed in the 2012 Olympics in wrestling with 29 countries winning medals.

“The diversity in wrestling is second to no other sport,” Bender said. “We need to make sure the IOC understands and recognizes that.”

Bender said he’s heard from nearly every country in the world that competes internationally in wrestling. He added that the World Cup showed how wrestling can unite countries even when there are political differences between nations.

“The outpouring of support internationally for this cause and effort has been nothing short of miraculous,” Bender said. “The coalition we’ve built with countries around the world is strong and continues to build.”

Bender added that wrestling ranks fourth among U.S. sports in total medals won at the Olympic Games.

Scherr emphasized that wrestling remains a part of the Olympic Games.

“Wrestling has not yet been eliminated from the Olympic program,” Scherr said. “It’s an IOC Executive Board recommendation that it not be a core sport. It can still be returned as a core sport by the IOC membership and could be added as a provisional sport for 2020 and 2024.”

Scherr was asked how difficult a challenge it will be to keep wrestling in the Olympic Games.

“It’s difficult to gauge how uphill this battle is,” Scherr said. “I think it’s a major challenge for the sport, but I think from what I’ve heard from people connected to the IOC that there is a path here for wrestling. Wrestling can remain on the program. Wrestling has to work hard to do so. We are optimistic with the leadership worldwide and with the leadership in the United States that we are up to the task and we will get that job done.

“It’s a difficult, difficult challenge, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting change for the sport.”
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