The largest and most important event on the USA Wrestling schedule begins today in Stillwater, Okla., as the top Olympic-caliber wrestlers in the country vie for spots on Team USA at the 2013 ASICS U.S. World Team Trials at Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State University. It's the latest showcase for a sport which a few months ago was shocked as if was hit by a live wire when the International Olympic Committee announced it would be removed from the Games beginning in 2020.
Instead of curling into the fetal position and accepting the ruling, the wrestling world—with the USA and other top wrestling nations like Russia and Iran leading the charge—has pulled a reversal and late last month earned a first-round win, gaining placement on a short list of sports from which one will be reinstated.
The IOC executive board will submit wrestling along with squash and baseball-softball to the full IOC assembly for a final decision on Sept. 8 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
That important first step is the result of a concerted campaign, with an organization known as the Committee for the Preservation of Wrestling, or "CPOW," at the lead. CPOW and USA Wrestling produced events like the highly successful "Rumble on the Rails" in New York in May, which raised awareness and helped bind the international wrestling community.
Chairman Bill Scherr took a few minutes this week to discuss some of those efforts and what comes next.
Bleacher Report: First, congratulations on the first part of the campaign. I understand there was an event this past week to coordinate more activities?
Bill Scherr: We had a summit meeting with a cross section of leaders from various areas to discuss the next 90 days of the campaign, as well what wrestling can do to capitalize on the increased awareness an attention the sport has received recently.
BR: What were some of the takeaways from the summit?
BS: The first is that we recognize that we will have to have additional fundraising to support the next 90 days and beyond that. We have raised $1.3 million to date, and have targeted $2 million by September. Our goals are twofold: one, to keep wrestling in the Olympics; and two, to use events like these to improve wrestling in the USA and have it classified as an "A" list sport.
BR: What do you see as the next steps?
BS: First, we will continue to work intently on our public relations campaign, utilizing PR in the U.S. to link to international efforts in Switzerland, so that on a domestic and international level, we can promote how important wrestling is, to let people know about our great sport.
That involves a series of PSAs in a variety of distribution channels, hosting big events and continuing to publicize them.
Second, we must continue to work to utilized assets in the USA and internationally, to reach out to IOC members, let them know how important wrestling is to the Olympics, and how important the Olympics are to wrestling.
BR: Any other special events planned?
BS: We are working on an event we've tentatively titled "One World, One Sport, One Day," in which we will hold an event on each of five continents. It's designed to create awareness of how great the sport is globally.
BR: How important are the U.S. World Team Trials this weekend in this effort?
BS: The event is important in several different ways. It's the biggest showcase for wrestling in this country, so we decided to do some things we don't normally do in an event here, like adding additional lighting for the TV broadcast, cheerleaders, additional PR work before the event, to showcase wrestling to our marketplace and beyond in a way that hasn't been done before. And, if we can run a successful event, it can be a pattern to follow with other events in the future.
BR: What has the feedback been on these efforts?
BS: The events have had a broad reach. Many IOC members saw the Rumble on the Rails event, noted that it was a great example of sportsmanship and diplomacy, a good showcase for wrestling. We hope to continue that momentum with the trials.
BR: Has it trickled down to the grassroots level?
BS: We are using this opportunity to reinforce the benefits of wrestling on the high school and youth levels. Ad campaigns, local marketing, PSAs, all these tools are used to get more kids into the sport and creating efforts to get out the word of the benefits of the sport, like discipline, character, from a health standpoint and embracing an initiative to create true gender equity. We're creating a steering committee for high schools and colleges to adopt women's programs and increase those opportunities as well.
BR: How do you see the September decision breaking?
BS: We know we are still in a fight with very quality competition in baseball/softball and squash. We know we must continue our efforts and not rest on what has already been accomplished.
Jerry Milani is a featured writer at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.
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