The U.S., Iranian, and Russian wrestling teams are set to square-off Wednesday at New York’s historic Grand Central Station for “The Rumble on the Rails,” in hopes that their competitive cooperation can save their beloved sport from being removed from the 2020 Olympic Games.
“In this crisis, we all stick together. Wrestlers maybe can do, sometimes, what politicians cannot,” FILA President Nenad Lalovic told the AP. “We love our sport, and we are united to save it.”
Wrestling was recommended for removal during an IOC vote in February, where it was last in all five rounds after executive board members scrutinized everything from ticket sales, to anti-doping policies, TV ratings, and worldwide popularity.
But a community of Olympic, amateur, pro wrestlers, and MMA fighters have rallied around the effort to #KeepOlympicWrestling. Now the three teams, which combined for 21 medals in London last summer, including nine gold, will attempt to show the world why their sport deserves to be in the Games.
The athletes will also hold a pre-meet press conference at the United Nations before heading down the street to compete at Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall for the competition, which will include a dual freestyle meet between the U.S. and Iran followed by a meet between the U.S. and Russia featuring both freestyle and Greco-Roman. USA Wrestling is also planning to include some rules changes as part of an international effort to show how the sport can evolve for a new audience.
The event will be the first time the Iranian team competed on American soil in ten years. The two teams wrestled at a meet in Tehran back in February, with the American team shaking hands and taking pictures with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an awards ceremony after the event.
Relations between Iran and the U.S. have been fractured since protestors stormed the American embassy and held 52 people hostage in 1979. But they’re standing “arm-in-arm” for the sake of wrestling.
“It is an exciting opportunity for wrestling to show the world its ability to bring together nations of different political, cultural and geographic backgrounds,” USA Wrestling’s Rich Bender said last month.
Wrestling’s efforts have been compared to the famous “Ping-pong Diplomacy” of the early-1970s, when U.S. and Chinese players competed against one another in friendly tournaments that are believed to have paved the way for then President Nixon to visit Beijing.
Wrestling fans can catch “The Rumble on the Rails” live on NBC Sports Network Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and a dual meet between the U.S. and Russia on Universal Sports Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. ET