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March 24, 2013

Panel fights to preserve wrestling in Olympics

STILLWATER, Okla. — DES MOINES, Iowa — On college wrestling’s biggest stage, the movement to keep wrestling in the Olympics was in the back of everybody’s mind.

Before Friday’s semifinal action, members of the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling — a committee in which Oklahoma State coach John Smith is a member — held a press conference to announce its efforts to try to make sure wrestling is in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Included on the panel were some influential faces in wrestling and in the political realm. CPOW is chaired by Olympic bronze medalist Bill Scherr, who was an NCAA champion for Nebraska.

“I think we’ve gotten off to a great, early start. ... We quickly formed this group and within three days this coalition, which was really formed and assisted by USA Wrestling, was able to work to influence the International Wrestling Federation ... in getting the FILA bureau to vote ‘no confidence’ in its current leadership,” Scherr said. “... (Former president) Raphael Martinetti was a roadblock and right or wrong, he led to the demise of wrestling and we needed new leadership and we’ve gotten new leadership. It was the first and most important impact that we’ve had. ...

“Make no mistake about it, we disagree vehemently with the decision of the International Olympic Committee. But also make no mistake that the fault lies largely with the leadership of wrestling and not the process, and the individuals at the International Olympic Committee.”

At the political level, two-time NCAA champion for Wisconsin Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is  spearheading a bipartisan movement in Congress to preserve wrestling’s place at the Olympic level.

“This is an issue that brings people together,” Jordan said. “People around the world know how special this sport is.”

The committee announced Friday a national marketing and public relations campaign titled “2020 Vision: Wrestling, Keep the Dream Alive.” The campaign has the same mission as CPOW, “to ensure that wrestling remains as a core sport of the Olympic Games.”

They also released an open letter to Dr. Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, from the Congress of the United States signed by Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and several other members of Congress, stating “while American passion about this sport tops the list, the IOC’s preliminary vote has prompted outcries far beyond the United States. ... Should this decision stand, medalists from past Olympics are actually threatening to return their medals.”

But the trickle down effect of the decision by the International Olympic Committee to recommend the exclusion of wrestling in the 2020 Olympics has been witnessed firsthand at the youth level by some of wrestling’s biggest names.

The committee will push to keep wrestling in the Olympic Games, either as a core sport or as a provisional sport, as important votes are held within the IOC in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Regardless of the IOC’s decision, members of the committee also are looking to solidify the future of the sport.

“What happens is you just continue to move forward and continue to gather and become more attentive than maybe you ever have,” Dan Gable said.

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