The United States and Iran may be arch foes on the diplomatic front, but bosses from two of wrestling’s power-houses have allied to fight a decision to drop the sport from the 2020 Olympic Games.
Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, was in Tehran, which hosted the World Cup men’s freestyle tournament on Thursday and Friday.
“We need the backing of Iran and Russia... to preserve the wrestling, and this goes beyond politics... Iran is one of the powers in wrestling and can defend the game’s credibility,” he was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.
Speaking at a ceremony hosted by the Iranian Wrestling Federation, he said he hoped that, with the “comprehensive unity” among the wrestling power-houses, the IOC will change its decision.
The head of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, Hojatollah Khatib, said he hopes that “this unprecedented unity” can change the International Olympic Committee’s decision.
Hegedus Csaba, a member of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), said “we are showing the IOC that we are united and will force them to bring back the wrestling to the Olympics.”
“I am very happy that Khatib and Bender had very friendly meeting. This shows that we have a common language and that is wrestling.”
The verdict for ‘additional sport’
The IOC’s executive board, last week, voted to drop wrestling as one of the core sports of the games. That means it now joins seven others – baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu - vying to be selected as an “additional sport.”
The board will meet in May to consider presentations by their supporters and choose one to recommend to the full committee for a decision in September.
But the full committee is seen as unlikely to vote against the executive board, raising the prospect that one of the few sports that survived from the original Olympics in ancient Greece into the modern era will disappear.
The sport first appeared in 708 BC and has only ever been left out of the Olympic program once before in 1900.
Wrestling has an ancient history in Iran, dating back when Persian kings would battle their opponents in epic matches. The sport attracts millions of followers across the country, and unofficial figures say tens of thousands actually go to the mats.
Wrestling-mad Iran was one of the first nations to criticize the move to scrap the sport, dubbing it a “big blow” to the country’s sport which has been medal winner for the country. However, wrestling is forbidden for women in Islamic Iran.
FILA has vowed to fight the decision, and International Olympic Academy president Isidoros Kouvelos also called on the IOC to respect the historical roots of the Olympics and not remove wrestling.
It is particularly significant that public figures from the United States and Iran have come together with a common goal to preserve wrestling in the Olympic Games, given that the two countries’ governments are locked in a tense showdown over an array of issues.