The sport of wrestling received some terrific news from the International Olympic Committee on May 29th. Olympic wrestling is being recommended as one of three sports to be accepted provisionally in the Olympics for 2020 and beyond. The international wrestling community is both jubilant and grateful for the Executive Board's decision.
The next big step comes in September, when the entire voting body of the IOC will convene in Buenos Aires to cast their final vote on the fate of wrestling as an Olympic sport.
In my opinion, wrestling represents the very essence of the Olympic Games. It has competed in every Olympic Games in the modern era (except 1900) and is one of the original sports to compete in the ancient games as well -- dating back to 708 BC.
Seventy-one nations competed in the 2012 London Games with medalists from 29 nations. Wrestlers compete on every continent, in rich countries and poor, democracies and dictatorships. It is a sport that transcends cultural, political and socio-economic boundaries. All of that was brilliantly displayed on May 16th in New York City when the international wrestling community was able to do what no sitting American president has done in my lifetime. It brought together the United States, Russia and Iran. All three united with the same objective, to save Olympic wrestling.
In the United States, wrestling is more than just a sport; it is one the most fascinating subcultures that I have ever had the honor and the privilege of experiencing. The people involved in the sport, from the athletes to the coaches to the fans, are the most passionate and honorable people I have ever met. People from places like Waterloo, Iowa; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Wrestling has nearly 300,000 high school competitors today; it is the sixth most popular high school sport. If you were to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games it would be unthinkable for American athletes, but we are afforded the luxury of being able to compete in many other sports in the Olympics. Imagine how bad it would be for a boy living in a remote village in Iran where it is their national sport. Or a girl living on a farm in Russia where wrestling is an obsession, or scores of other less privileged nations where there are not as many opportunities as we are blessed with here in the United States. It would be devastating.
In February, the IOC spoke. They said that the sport of wrestling needed to change in order to be considered as a sport for the Olympic programme in the modern era. The international wrestling community responded in decisive and impressive fashion. They introduced sweeping reforms that addressed several of the IOC's concerns. First, they changed the antiquated and dysfunctional leadership at FILA, the governing body that represents wrestling to the IOC. Second, they changed the rules in a way that not only promotes offense and scoring, but also make scoring easier to understand for the viewing audiences. Third, they will use new technologies and social media to brand and promote wrestling in the most cutting edge ways available. Lastly, they have introduced an unprecedented level of involvement for women not only as athletes in the sport but also in positions of leadership and governance as well.
We have been busy for the past several months but this fight is not over. We have survived this first round but we have a long way to go. The vote in Buenos Aires in September is the one that will determine our ultimate fate. Wrestling enthusiasts around the world should not take this vote for granted. They should not become complacent. We need to learn from our past mistakes and keep "the pedal to the medal" so that we can send a strong message to the IOC and around the world that wrestling, the oldest and greatest sport of all, is not only a charter member of the Olympic Games but a permanent member of the Olympic family.
For years now I have been listening to the Mount Rushmore of American wrestling -- Gable, Smith, Baumgartner, Sanderson and many others -- talk about how we can make the sport of wrestling bigger and better. More athletes, more fans, more exciting, more profitable. This shot over the bow of wrestling from the IOC could be the wakeup call we have been waiting for. Never before have I witnessed more outrage, more passion, and more interest for our beloved sport than the sweeping tide of support that has been demonstrated by the global community since February. This is a big opportunity for us, our big chance. Let's take advantage of this international outpouring of support for wrestling and use it to elevate our sport to heights we never dreamed possible.
In spirit of the sport,