NEW YORK CITY: The United States, Iran and Russia on Tuesday forged an unlikely heavyweight alliance to keep the ancient sport of wrestling in the Olympic Games.
While political differences between the three are deep, the national teams from the three wrestling superpowers will grapple with each other in New York’s Grand Central Station railway terminal on Wednesday to back the campaign.
Wrestling has been in shock since the International Olympic Committee announced in February that it wanted the sport ejected for the 2020 Games.
There were complaints that the sport, where a broken nose or a cauliflower ear can be a badge of honor, is too macho, too complicated and not attractive to television audiences.
But after initial hunger strikes by coaches and Olympic champions sending back their medals in protest, wrestling is fighting back.
The bouts between the US, Iranian and Russian teams in New York on Wednesday and Sunday in Los Angeles are part of a new offensive to make the sport more attractive.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said he will raise the case. But leaders of the international wrestling federation, FILA, admit they are in a desperate battle to make sure that the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games are not the last for one of the original Olympic sports.
Christakis Alexandridis, Russia’s Olympic wrestling coach, said that when wrestling was included in Ancient Greece Olympics “it featured the beauty of the athletic body, willpower and determination.”
Nenad Lalovic, expected to be elected the FILA president at a congress in Moscow this weekend, said, however, that wrestling has been living on its past for too long.
The IOC decision in February was a “terrible shock”, Lalovic told AFP on the sidelines of a press conference at the UN headquarters.
“We were counting too much on wrestling’s history,” he said. “We did not change enough for modern times.”
New modern outfits might be introduced and rules could be changed to make sure there are no drawn bouts and to broaden the appeal of tournaments.
Lalovic said he wants to see “more gender equity in decisions and in competition. I would like to see new more understandable rules.”
The Serbian official said FILA must be “fully united” to “go before the IOC and make new arguments in order to reverse the decision.
“We may be the same people but we have changed,” he said.
Lalovic will meet the IOC executive in Russia on May 29 in a bid to sway the Olympic leaders.
The full IOC will decide in September whether to keep wrestling or add squash, roller sports, karate, wushu, the nautical sport wakeboard or sport climbing for the 2020 Olympics.
Wrestling first appeared in 708 BC and has only ever been left out of the Olympic once before, in 1900.
Alongside the Grand Central “Rumble On The Rails”, international wrestling day events will be held in Turkey, France, Germany, Japan and across Russia, FILA officials said.