Open letter to the USA Wrestling membership and the American wrestling community

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James Ravannack and Rich Bender (USA Wrestling)

With incredible gratitude and fond admiration, we wish to thank our USA Wrestling members and the entire American wrestling community for its amazing effort in the ‘Keep Olympic Wrestling’ movement this year.

We have come a long way since February 12, when the IOC Executive Board recommended that wrestling be removed as a core sport from the Olympic Games. This was the biggest challenge our sport had ever faced, and it brought out the best in the wrestling family.  USA Wrestling and its Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling (CPOW) quickly stepped up to this challenge. We knew the first order of business was to reach out to our USA Wrestling family for a collaborative, cohesive, well-planned approach to take action and ‘right’ this wrong.  We are so very proud that you responded to the call and rallied on behalf of the sport we all love.

We asked for group support, and our USA Wrestling state organizations and chartered clubs banded together behind our effort. We asked for individuals and their families to be part of the team, and you signed on to the cause.  When we had a need for financial support, you made donations and held local fundraisers all year long, providing us with the resources necessary for victory. In many cases, you were very creative in finding ways to raise funds for the cause.  

When we asked for your online presence with our social media campaigns, you came out in record numbers. You liked our Keep Olympic Wrestling Facebook page, and you used our #WrestlingVision Twitter hashtag. When there were online polls about what sport should be in the Olympics, you voted for wrestling and we won every time. When USA Wrestling hosted major events, such as the ‘Rumble on the Rails’ in New York City, United4Wrestling in Los Angeles, and the Curby Cup in Chicago, you came out to support the competitions in impressive numbers. You attended events, watched the television productions, and logged on to live webcasts, as well as other major wrestling tournaments, showing the wide interest of this sport.  Clearly, when we asked you to stay informed on what was going on, you were active and engaged for the entire seven months of this journey.

As you are well aware, on Sunday, September 8, the International Olympic Committee elected wrestling as the additional sport for the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games, defeating baseball/softball and squash on the first ballot in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This could not have been possible without the support and involvement of American wrestling.  As a wrestling family, we should all take great pride in the success of the Keep Olympic Wrestling campaign, and each of you deserve credit for being part of a winning team.  Wrestling is so much better because we faced this challenge and triumphed. We look forward to working with you in the future as we continue to make our sport even stronger and more exciting.

Now in many ways the real work begins. FILA and USA Wrestling has made and promised many changes and improvements. We must continue with the same sense of urgency to follow through on these improvements.  Starting with FILA, we must continue to improve the governing structure of the ultimate wrestling authority.  Women and active athletes must have a voice in the direction of the sport.  The diversity of the sport must be embraced and fostered to help move wrestling forward.  We must embolden FILA to continue to embrace the new rules which encourage action and punish passivity.  Partnerships are needed for FILA to invest and embrace social media and television opportunities to promote wrestling all over the world.  FILA must also address their administrative responsibilities with the development of a professional staff.  This professional staff must be assembled to manage the day to day operation of the sport on the world-wide level.  With this investment, FILA will be prepared to capitalize on television and sponsorship opportunities that have been created in the last seven months.

USA Wrestling now must continue in the leadership position we have taken throughout this IOC process.  We must invest in this opportunity as well.  Promoting and Marketing the sport must be at or near the top of the list.  USA Wrestling must have the appetite to invest real resources in building television, sponsorship, marketing and social media platforms that will launch wrestling into the general public’s eye.  USA Wrestling will soon be announcing a partnership with a professional marketing firm to build the wrestling brand and promote the sport.  Staff structure at USA Wrestling must and will be adjusted to better serve our sport and athletes.  We must strive to continue building USA Wrestling membership in untapped populations.  All wrestlers, young and old, must feel a sense of belonging to the National Governing Body.  The organization will extend a welcoming hand to those who have fractured the sport in the past.  For our sport to remain strong we must be united.  A strong Governing Body brings strength to the grassroots and elite programs alike.

USA Wrestling has the responsibility to promote, partner with, and protect wrestlers of all ages.  USA Wrestling is committed to provide the necessary resources to ensure wrestlers of all ages have the opportunity to participate and progress through the sport.  During the past twenty plus years, USA Wrestling has continually grown its membership while becoming a leader in governing body structure and best practices.  As a result, the organization has become fiscally sound and we have positioned the sport for future success.  USA Wrestling has shown steady, positive progress in all areas since its inception in 1983.  Strong programs, services and infrastructure have been established thanks to thoughtful leadership, a dedicated group of tireless volunteers, staff and corporate partners.

In the early 2000’s USA Wrestling invested in the development of a strategic plan which was formulated with the assistance of TSE Consulting, the very firm FILA has hired to do the same for our International Federation.  USA Wrestling’s Long Range Planning Committee has used this as a foundation for the development of USA Wrestling’s long range plan.  

USA Wrestling operates around four core business objectives:

#1 Grow The Base: A strong membership base provides the organization with revenue to run programs, but more importantly, a strong connected base allows for better communication and support of wrestlers.  We must build the base, but also do all in our power to ensure a positive experience in the sport.  Retention of wrestlers will serve the sport well for years to come. 
#2 Build The Brand: Wrestling has enjoyed an increase in visibility and relevance over these past seven months, and in our commitment to build the brand we must intentionally and strategically invest in marketing the sport.  Consistent television opportunities must be developed, which will lead to cultivation of more corporate partnerships. 
#3 Network The Wrestling Community On-Line: New technology must be embraced to connect and promote the sport.  USA Wrestling has made a substantial investment with one of the World’s leading sports technology corporations to develop the most engaging wrestling platform in the history of wrestling.  This technology, in addition to a long-term web partnership with the United State Olympic Committee, sets the sport up for future success.
#4 Sustain Competitive Excellence: We must not lose sight of why we exist; the athletes must remain at the core of all that we do.  We need to fight aggressively for revenue to support athletes on all levels with the goal of World and Olympic success.  We must build and improve on our results at the highest level.  A strong and accomplished TEAM USA also sets the sport up for long-term success.  Following the 2013 World Championships we must make serious evaluation and make adjustments to improve upon those results.   We must also provide women with opportunities that mirror our high school and college men’s programs.  A strong and well organized Women’s High School and College program will only strengthen the sport.  Looking to the future, this can be a very real opportunity for our sport to grow and entrench itself on campuses all over America. 

Granted, these have been the core objectives that we have defaulted to for many years.  Our long range plan must evolve and adjust to meet the changing needs and opportunities of the sport.  In an effort to evaluate the existing opportunities and expand and adjust our core objectives, USA Wrestling will be hosting an All-Wrestling Summit this winter.  This summit will not only include those who have been long-time supporters of the organization but also those that have been our chief critics.  We will reach out to those that have been successful outside of wrestling.  This should prove to be an historic event.

The last seven months have been nothing less than a monumental challenge; however, it is with certainty that we will look back on this as a ‘Bell Weather Event’ that changed the course of our wrestling history. 

Thank you for your tireless support of Man’s Oldest and Greatest Sport.

In the Olympic spirit –
Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director
James Ravannack, USA Wrestling President