Political foes join forces together to keep wrestling in Olympic Games

Political foes join forces together to keep wrestling in Olympic Games

Political foes join forces together to keep wrestling in Olympic Games

International Olympic Committee has come under criticism in the wake of its decision to exclude wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games program. United States, Russia and Iran are leading the group hoping to help wrestling keep its place. AA photo

Plitical foes and sporting rivals are joining forces to overturn an International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to leave wrestling out of the Olympic Games. 

The leading countries in wrestling, the United States, Russia and Iran, left their political differences off the mat to lead the campaign to keep the historical sport in the Olympic Games. 

Last week the 15-member IOC Executive Board recommended to the wider IOC membership the removal of wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games. 

Several factors played a part in the decision, with IOC members saying they looked at television ratings, ticket sales and doping rules before making their decision. According to sources, politics and public relations could have played a role in the dropping of one of the oldest sports in Olympic history. 
However, the decision helped some countries find a common goal and unite against the dropping of wrestling. The move must still be ratified by the full IOC in September, giving wrestling time to try to overturn the decision against a sport that dates back to the ancient Olympics and has been featured since the inaugural modern games in 1896.

“We’ll be standing arm-in-arm with Iran, and we’ll be standing with Russia as we will with lots of other countries,” said Mitch Hull, national teams director for USA Wrestling, in an interview in Tehran before the World Cup Tournament, The Associated Press reported. “Those [countries] really do make a difference because politically we’re not always on the same page, or politically with Russia, but in wrestling, there’s no doubt that we are all together in this effort and we consider Iran one of our strongest allies in the sport of wrestling,” Hull said.

Hojatollah Khatib, the head of Iran’s wrestling federation, said the tournament would offer “the best opportunity to confront the decision” to drop the sport from the Olympics.

On the opening day of the tournament yesterday, the athletes were planning to protest the decision by lying on the mat. 

Shock snub 

Wrestling was deemed as a fixture in the Olympic program even though the schedule is growing with the inclusion of golf and rugby in 2016. With the agenda of keeping the Olympic Games limited to 26 sports, some sports had to lobby hard to be kept in, but reports said wrestling did no lobbying and took its place for granted. The news came as a shock to the sport, and on Feb. 16, Raphael Martinetti resigned as the president of the sport’s global governing body, FILA, in the wake of the sport’s Olympic snub, with Nenad Lalovic assuming the role of interim president.

Earlier this week, Japan presented a plan calling wrestling icons to join the fight. 

Tomiaki Fukuda, vice president of FILA, called on former medalists, including three-time Olympic champions Alexander Karelin of Russia and Saori Yoshida of Japan, to gather in St. Petersburg when the IOC executive board meets May 26 to 31, Agence France-Presse reported. 

Former world gold medalist and 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold-winning Turkish wrestler Mahmut Demir told Anatolia news agency yesterday that “he is ready to return all his medals” as a protest if wrestling is removed from the Olympics.
Demir’s action echoed the protest of Bulgarian wrestling legend and federation chief Valentin Yordanov, who said he would return his Olympic gold medal to protest the sport’s loss of a berth.

Turkey will have to cope with the absence of its most successful sport in the 2020 Games if the decision is finalized. 

Turkey has won 58 of its total 87 Olympic medals in wrestling. Turkish athletes have collected 28 gold, 16 silver and 14 bronze medals so far. 

Turkish Wrestling Federation Chairman and two-time Olympic gold medalist Hamza Yerlikaya said the decision needs to be reviewed. “It is plain wrong to drop wrestling, which is one of the main branches of the Olympics,” Yerlikaya said.