The United States and Russia have grappled over Iran’s nuclear ambitions in recent years, but the three nations are now joining forces for the right to keep on grappling in the Olympics after International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials recommended scrapping the ancient sport of wrestling this week.
“We must form a coalition of the willing, so to speak, that will come together at some point to support the cause,” Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, the sport’s body in the United States, told RIA Novosti Friday.
Bender said he spoke by telephone with senior Russian wrestling official Georgy Bryusov Thursday and that he has held telephone talks with Iranian wrestling federation executives as well.
Bender is to leave Monday for Tehran, where US wrestlers are set to compete in the 2013 Freestyle World Cup and where he plans to discuss a plan of action with his Iranian counterparts and representatives from other national federations.
“Many of the other wrestling powers will be there,” said Bender. “My hope is that this coalition will start to form very swiftly.”
The IOC’s executive board announced this week its recommendation that wrestling not be included in the 2020 Summer Olympics, a proposal that, if ratified by the IOC in September, would eliminate a sport that had endured from the ancient Olympic Games through every modern Olympic competition since the movement’s revival in 1896.
The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations for more than three decades, and US-Russia ties have arguably reached their nadir since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A recently enacted US law called the Magnitsky Act places sanctions on Russian officials deemed by the White House to be complicit in rights abuses, and Moscow retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
The two nations also remain divided over how to respond to the raging civil war in Syria and Tehran’s pursuit of expanded nuclear capabilities.
But geopolitical grappling has little place in the wrestling world, Bender said.
“Obviously we’re fierce competitors on the mat, but we’re family off it. Obviously that’s the great beauty of our sport - that it transcends politics. We join together as wrestlers.”
Bryusov, first vice president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
But the federation issued a statement Thursday calling on national federations to “unite forces” to rescue wrestling’s place at the Olympics.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said this week that he would meet with the leadership of FILA, international wrestling’s governing body, to discuss the sport’s fate.
“I should say FILA reacted well to this disheartening news for them,” Rogge told a news conference Wednesday.
“They vowed to adapt the sport and vowed to fight to be eventually included in the 2020 slot.”