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."