Ex-USOC head: Wrestling faces major Olympic hurdle

Former U.S. Olympic Committee head Jim Scherr believes wrestling
has a path to survival in the Olympics, but it will be a ”major
challenge.”

Scherr is a former wrestler who has been working with the
sport’s international federation to reverse a recent IOC
recommendation to eliminate wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games.
In a conference call arranged by USA Wrestling on Thursday, he said
it’s difficult to gauge how ”uphill” the battle will be.

”I think it’s a major challenge to the sport,” Scherr said.
”By no means is there an easy win here. Wrestling can remain on
the program. But wrestling has to work hard to do so. We’re
optimistic that the leadership that’s been collected on the
worldwide level and here in the United States, that we’re up to the
task.”

The international federation recognizes it could have done more
to promote wrestling to Olympic leaders, and new leadership under
interim president Nenad Lalovic will make a difference, Scherr
said.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg,
Russia, to choose which sport or sports to propose for inclusion in
2020. The final vote will be made at the IOC general assembly in
September in Buenos Aires.

Scherr said the sport’s leaders will consider ways to tweak the
rules and scoring system for fans unfamiliar with the sport, and
will try to sway the IOC with better media and sponsorship models.
He said the international federation hasn’t been a good steward for
the sport within the Olympic movement. Raphael Martinetti resigned
just days after the IOC’s recommendation was announced in
mid-February.

”Everybody connected with the international movement would
agree that in hindsight FILA and the worldwide wrestling community
could have done much more, and certainly the leadership change is a
reflection of that,” Scherr said.

Scherr and his brother, former world champion Bill Scherr, are
joining several wrestling stars on a committee that will lead
reform efforts in the U.S. Rich Bender, executive director of USA
Wrestling, says an international coalition is vital to the cause,
and worked to build one on a recent trip to Iran for the World
Cup.

The U.S. and Iran have rare common ground in trying to save
wrestling, and it was on display with shows of unity during the
event in Tehran.

”Can we do a better job as a sport? Certainly we can because I
think the values of our sport are obvious,” Bender said. ”We’re
looking forward at this as maybe the most significant opportunity
our sport’s ever had.”

Scherr is commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey
Conference after being forced out as leader of the USOC in 2009.
Now a sport as old as the Olympic Games is asking for his help.

”I will do what I can to be a part of a team to help save the
day,” Scherr said. ”While this is a difficult, difficult
challenge for the sport, it is a tremendous opportunity to make
some real and lasting changes to the future of the sport.”