US, Iran wrestling leaders unite to fight Olympic ouster

Wrestling leaders from political foes Iran and the United States have united as part of a coalition of nations trying to keep the sport from being dumped from the Olympic lineup.

Together with Russia and other world powers in freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines, the US and Iran came together last month when the Americans competed in the World Cup at Tehran.

In a symbol of their common quest to avoid being ousted from the lineup at the 2020 Olympics, the US team shook hands and posed for photographs with Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as sporting diplomacy trumped political issues.

"We have to bond as a worldwide community to keep wrestling in the Games," said US 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott. "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."

USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender has shown how sport can unite even the hardest of rivals.

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

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board recommended last month that wrestling, a sport which saw medalists from 29 of 71 participating nations in London last year, not be included at the 2020 Olympics.

Wrestling bosses hope to be among as many of three sports pushed forward from an IOC executive board meeting in May where baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboard, wrestling and wushu will make their case to join the Olympics.

A final decision on wrestling's fate will come at the IOC general session in September at Buenos Aires.

Former US Olympic Committee chief and USA Wrestling executive director Jim Scherr is working with Serbia's Nenad Lalovic, acting president of world governing body FILA, to assemble a united front to combat the Olympic ouster.

"We are working closely with Lalovic and other FILA members and the IOC to have wrestling remain as one of the core sports programs at the Olympics," said Scherr. "Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. It's a difficult challenge."

Scherr said rule changes aimed at making wrestling more dynamic and easier to understand for spectators and television audiences are in the works.

"I believe there will be sweeping changes that will be refreshing for the worldwide wrestling community," Scherr said.

"It's difficult to gauge how uphill this battle is. 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."

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