Sports: Rallying For Wrestling

Host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's Mike Pesca about wrestling. The Iran and U.S. teams were supposed to face off in Los Angeles, and the sport is battling to stay in the Olympics.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. And it's time for sports.

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MARTIN: NPR's Mike Pesca is on the line from New York. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hey.

MARTIN: There's a little wrestling news to talk about this morning. There was this big landmark wrestling match last week between Iran and the U.S. that took place in Grand Central Station, right?

PESCA: Grand Central, yeah. I was there. The Russians were involved, too, quite exciting.

MARTIN: Very exciting.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: There was supposed to be a rematch between the Iranians and the U.S. in L.A. today. It is not going to happen.

PESCA: No, the Iranians pulled out. They got the Russians and Canadians to fill their slot. That will not thrill the, you know, few thousand Persian-Americans who already bought tickets, but what can you do?

MARTIN: Oops. OK. But I understand there's actually a larger story about wrestling in the ether right now.

PESCA: Yeah, a huge story that's going to have an effect on its future. You know, they'll be wrestling in the next Olympics. Wrestling's been in every Olympics since they started them. In 1900, there was no wrestling, but you know, wrestling and the marathon, the most important Olympic sports, but they voted out wrestling in 2020. In 2024, there's a chance for the sport itself to work its way back in after a couple of international votes.

But yes, wrestling - let's go with the pun - is on the mat.

MARTIN: Ooh, OK. So they are trying to make some changes to make sure they can participate. What are they floating as possibilities?

PESCA: Right. So the first reaction was indignant and how could this happen? And you know, the countries like Iran and the U.S. and Russia, they were very upset and they mobilized their forces. Like in politics, the base was upset. But they also know they have to do some outreach, and they also know they have to change a little bit. So some of the things they're talking about are things like maybe we should change. There's no reason it has to be a circular mat. They've been talking to the MMA guys. MMA has an octagon.

MARTIN: This is the martial arts people.

PESCA: Mixed martial arts. Maybe wrestling could scrap those singlets, the, you know, onesies that they use, and just wrestle in shorts or a T-shirt. And then even the scoring now, it's the best two out of three, there are three periods. So maybe wrestling could go in for aggregate score. So you don't just win periods, whoever wins on the most points would win. That's a change they're considering.

MARTIN: What about making those changes would endear the sport to more people or convince...

PESCA: Right.

MARTIN: ...the Olympic Committee that they should let wrestling back in?

PESCA: Well, the first couple I mentioned, that's just as clear showmanship perhaps versus sportsmanship issue, but then when you go with the scoring, a lot of the wrestlers I talked to think it would be more exciting to have the score be an aggregate because this way, you know, there's tension at the very end. It's not the case that some guy just won two rounds.

It could all come down to the final seconds. I mean, most of the wrestlers think that this would be a bit more exciting, and that's what they're going for.

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MARTIN: Well, I'm excited just thinking about it. NPR's Mike Pesca in New York. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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