Olympics Wrestling Decision Angers Lawmakers

Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:17pm

Nothing unites lawmakers like sports.

The International Olympic Committee’s vote this week to eliminate wrestling starting with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games is an issue on which even Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld could find common ground.

On Capitol Hill, a broad coalition in both chambers is pushing the IOC to reverse its vote, noting the historic significance of the sport to the Olympic movement — it is an original sport — and the American record of achievement in it.

A group of senators in both parties, including Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, have introduced a resolution saying the Senate “opposes the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board to eliminate wrestling from the Summer Olympic Games beginning in 2020.”

“From youth wrestling camps and high school meets to NCAA tournaments — athletes in Ohio have learned the strength, discipline, and focus that allow grapplers to succeed both on the mat and in life. This sport is accessible to everyone around the world, regardless of their financial circumstances,” Brown said. “The IOC should not ratify this preliminary decision by its executive board.”

Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat and former high school wrestler, joined in the resolution.

“As someone who grew up in Minnesota — where I wrestled in high school, where we’ve hosted the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials, and where the University of Minnesota is in contention for the national title almost every year — I can’t express how deeply disappointing this decision is. I believe the IOC should reverse its decision and restore wrestling to its rightful place in the Olympic games,” Franken said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin have joined Brown and Franken in introducing the resolution. They also have banded together with the entire Iowa congressional delegation, the state’s governor and its lieutenant governor in sending a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge protesting the preliminary move.

“The same spirit of competition that drove ancient wrestlers and early modern Olympians has transcended generations, and here in Iowa, we are the beneficiaries of this spirit. It is a sport where self-pride and determination battle and as a result, helps build character,” the Iowans wrote. “Wrestling does not discriminate by age, gender or economic background.”

To be sure, high school wrestling is a major part of the sports culture in Iowa, and the state has frequently hosted the NCAA Division I wrestling championships. According to NCAA records, only 10 team championships have ever been won by colleges or universities outside two states — Oklahoma and Iowa.

The Iowans, led by Republican Gov. Terry E. Branstad, also called for more transparency in future IOC decision-making and voting in the letter sent Friday.

“We would also encourage a transparent voting system for future votes on which sports should be included as part of the Olympic Games,” they write. “As public officials, we hold transparency as a sacred principle and we would encourage the International Olympic Committee to abide by that same principle.”

Reportedly, the IOC board is recommending eliminating wrestling from competition to preserve the modern pentathlon, which is a sport that requires athletes to engage in running, swimming, shooting and show-jumping. The equestrian component may be the most peculiar, since competitors since 1912 have completed that portion while riding horses that, as The New York Times explained, they generally do not know.

Congressional interest in the Olympics is nothing new. Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, drafted the 1978 law and its subsequent amendments regulating amateur sports in the United States and setting up the modern U.S. Olympic Committee.