Olympic 2020 wrestling: Senators work to keep sport alive

They wrangle over nearly everything else, but members of Congress from both parties have found agreement on one topic: Olympic wrestling.

Senators and representatives from both parties stood in agreement Friday against the International Olympic Committee's decision to take wrestling to the mat, eliminating the sport from the games starting in 2020. They introduced resolutions urging the IOC to reinstate it and called on the United States Olympic Committee to "work actively to reverse this decision."

The group includes both senators from Iowa -- Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin -- where one of the country's largest high school state wrestling meets got underway this week. It's a tournament which is expected to draw tens of thousands of fans to Des Moines.

"Any concern over the future of wrestling as a competitive sport need only look to Des Moines this week to see the benefits the statewide high school wrestling competition brings to our students and our state," Harkin said in a statement.

He and Grassley pointed to the sport's deep roots.

"Wrestling was part of both the ancient Greek Olympic Games and the modern Olympic Games, and wrestling remains a popular sport around the world, so it's very hard to understand the Olympic Committee's decision," Grassley's statement read. "I'm hopeful that the negative public reaction to the decision and other efforts like this resolution can reverse the decision to recommend eliminating wrestling from the Summer Games."

The sport was introduced to the Olympics in 708 BC and has been part of every modern day OIympic games except in the year 1900.

The bipartisan group behind the resolutions also includes Sens. Sherrod Brown, an D-Ohio; Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania; James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; Al Franken, D-Minnesota; and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa; and Tim Walz, D-Minnesota.

The full Iowa delegation to Congress, as well as Gov. Terry Branstad, sent a letter to the IOC which said the decision "ignores wrestling's rich Olympic tradition."

"It is a sport where self-pride and determination battle and as a result, helps build character. Wrestling does not discriminate by age, gender or economic background," the letter read.

It is one of the United States' most successful Olympic sports, behind swimming and track and field, each of which offer more medal opportunities than wrestling.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said his group was "surprised" by the decision earlier this week.

"It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world. In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes," he said.

The IOC will consider reinstating wrestling and several other sports later this year.

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