DES MOINES, Iowa — Wrestling has two shots left at a return to the Olympic program, and neither will be easy.
But U.S. wrestling officials appeared to have settled on which one they think is the best bet.
Former world champion Bill Scherr, the chairman of a committee of top American wrestling figures, said Friday that he thinks the sport’s best chance to remain an Olympic sport is to beat out the likes of squash, roller sports and karate for re-inclusion as a provisional sport in the 2020 Olympics.
“Perhaps our better avenue to stay in the Games is to win the competition against the provisional sports,” Scherr said. “We need to canvass those 15 IOC executive board members to make sure we get on that short list.”
Though the International Olympic Committee recommended in February to remove wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, that move is far from final. Wrestling will compete with seven other sports for a provisional spot in the 2020 Games in a vote in May.
But officials also will lobby the 114-member IOC General Session in September in hopes it will overturn the recommendation.
The first step for U.S. officials following what Scherr called a “bombshell” decision by the IOC was to organize the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling ahead of the May vote in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Scherr joined wrestling great Dan Gable, 2012 Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a two-time NCAA champion for Wisconsin, to discuss the plans.
Though the IOC vote was a damaging blow to wrestling’s future, Scherr acknowledged that the sport also has itself to blame as well.
“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,” Scherr said.
The IOC’s decision forced the head of the sport’s international governing body, Raphael Martinetti, to step aside less than a week later. He has been replaced by interim president Nenad Lalovic of Serbia.
According to Scherr, the change at the top showed the IOC that wrestling was serious about making the changes it needs to make to remain in the Olympics.
“Martinetti was a roadblock. Right or wrong, he led the demise of wrestling. We needed new leadership. We got new leadership. That’s the first and most important impact that we had,” Scherff said.
The IOC recommendation also has mobilized politicians in the U.S. to do what they can to help the sport.
Earlier this month, Iowa governor Terry Branstad released a letter co-signed by a group of 33 governors asking the IOC to reconsider its decision.
Another letter signed by U.S. House speaker John Boehner and six other members of Congress, including Jordan, and dated Thursday called on IOC President Jacques Rogge to do the same.
“Wrestling, what it does for young people, is good for a country. It’s good for a culture. It’s good for a society,” Jordan said.