US pols launch campaign to save Olympic wrestling, call exclusion 'worldwide injustice'

U.S. lawmakers are going to the mat in a bid to convince the International Olympic Committee to abandon a plan to cut wrestling from the 2020 summer games.

The committee's executive board made the recommendation last week, effectively stripping wrestling from the list of 25 "core sports." The move prompted an immediate backlash from several countries, but especially the United States, where a strong high school and college wrestling tradition for decades has bred Olympians.

For those students, removing wrestling from the games could quash their Olympic dreams.

"The decision to cut wrestling from the Olympic Games by the IOC is a worldwide injustice," Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said in a statement.

The Iowa delegation has been most vocal in its objections to the IOC decision. Gov. Terry Branstad and a team of wrestling advocates gathered Friday to launch a campaign to save one of the state's beloved sports.

Wearing a newly printed T-shirt with the campaign slogan, "Let's Keep Wrestling," Branstad highlighted the sport's ties to Iowa at a brief news conference near the Iowa State High School Wrestling Tournament. One of Iowa's most famous wrestlers, 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable, said the campaign would eventually go national and international.

Loebsack also joined Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., in introducing a House resolution formally opposing the decision. The lawmakers noted that 280,000 high school students participated in wrestling in the U.S. last year.

Further, the Iowa congressional delegation joined Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in writing a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge urging the "prompt reconsideration" of the decision to exclude wrestling. They noted that the sport "harkens back to ancient civilization" and was included as part of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

Even former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sounded off over the weekend, writing in The Washington Post that wrestling is unique from "the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be."

"While I have tremendous respect for athletes of every Olympic sport, it is difficult to understand why wrestling was singled out for exclusion," he wrote. "To exclude wrestling from the Olympics would be a tragedy for the sport, for the athletes and for the proud tradition of the Games."

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these lawmakers and officials used to wrestle and/or coach. Rumsfeld wrestled through high school and college. Jordan was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion, according to his official bio.

The IOC, though, argued that 25 other sports simply took priority over wrestling.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said last week. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. Reached for comment, committee spokesman Andrew Mitchell said Tuesday morning that the May meeting will be an opportunity for representatives from all those sports "to present such objections."

The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.