Sport & Culture

Iran, U.S. to Fight IOC’s Wrestling Cut

Iran and the U.S. are setting politics aside to save wrestling’s place at the 2020 Olympics.

John Duerden

It would be a testament to the power of sport if Iran, the United States and Russia were to unite to fight the recent decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games.

Technically, wrestling has not yet been completely dropped, but it must compete against seven hopeful sports for one open slot in the 2020 games. Competing sports include baseball/softball, the martial arts karate and wushu, roller sports, sport climbing, squash and wakeboarding.

Some sports come and go at the Olympics. Baseball and softball said goodbye after the 2008 Beijing Games and in 2016, golf and rugby are on the list. But few expected that such a venerable event would be axed.

"In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling; it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

Wrestling was at the core of the ancient Olympics, prompting many to ask why the sport has been dropped, while events such as synchronized swimming and dressage have made the cut. Indeed, the decision has been criticized far and wide.

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IOC chairman Jacques Rogge claimed that the body expected bad press. He reminded critics that it was not yet official and that the decision could still be reversed.

"We agreed we would meet at the first opportunity to have discussions," Rogge said at a press conference. "I should say FILA [International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles] reacted well to this disheartening news for them. They vowed to adapt the sport and vowed to fight to be eventually included in the 2020 slot."

The decision cost Switzerland's Raphael Martinetti his job as head of Fila, the sport’s world governing body. He was removed by a vote of no confidence at an executive committee meeting in Thailand and resigned after serving in the role since 2002.

The choice to drop wresting is an especially cruel blow to Iran, which has historically dominated in the sport. Iran won six medals in wrestling in the 2012 London games, three of which were gold. The country’s only other gold came in weightlifting.

Mohammad Aliabadi, president of Iran's National Olympic Committee, said: "Wrestling is the oldest and most famous sport in the world and I am shocked and regretful to hear that an unwise and unconsidered decision has been made to omit the oldest international sport in the world."

“Do we destroy our historical sites which are symbols of humanity? No. Then, why should we destroy wrestling?” Iranian gold medalist Ali Reza Dabir told the Associated Press.

Despite a diplomatic freeze that has lasted more than 30 years, Iran and the U.S. are ready to team up and wrangle to keep the sport in the Olympics. 

"I'm headed to Iran on Monday, and this is a main topic of my conversation with the leadership of the Iranian wrestling federation," said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling.

"The sports world is rallying around our sport right now. … We're just an incredibly diverse sport regardless of race, color, size. It's a really inclusive sport and I think one of the most important on the program."