On a day that Russia accused an American man in its custody of being a spy, and the tensions between America and Iran continued to run high, a group of wrestlers from each country gathered in a United Nations dining room for a friendly press conference.
The athletes gathered to kick off "Rumble on the Rails," a series of wrestling matches among the three teams at Grand Central Station in New York to benefit "Beat The Streets" -- an organization that sets up new wrestling programs for middle schools and high schools.
This year, instead of just focusing on "Rumble on the Rails," the three organizations' eyes and speeches were aimed toward the International Olympic Committee, which shocked the wrestling world when it voted to recommend dropping the sport from the Olympics beginning in 2020. Immediately after hearing the news, wrestlers jumped into action, with a unified worldwide movement to change their mind before the IOC executive committee meets later this month.
In the process, wrestlers from countries -- some of whom whose governments are normally unfriendly -- are forming a coalition that is being compared to "Pingpong diplomacy," the sort of non-state leader discussions between countries that can help spark change on the international stage.
"Sport is the foundation for good," said USA Wrestling director Rich Bender. "Certainly this isn't the first time we've come together. Russia, the United States and Iran really make up the three best wrestling countries in the world. There's a lot of commonalities around that. Certainly our friendship goes pretty deep through wrestling and all of us believe that sport is the foundation for good things to happen."
The coalition works to support worldwide wrestling federation, FILA, to encourage and put on events around the world for Worldwide Wrestling Month and lobby IOC leaders. They are also working to make changes to the sport to make it more appealing for the Games, including ramping up female participation, considering rules changes and giving the athletes' more of a voice.
Wrestlers themselves have also taken on a larger role in advocating for their sport, attending events and speaking out on social media about saving their spot in the Games.
Jordan Burroughs, an American wrestler who won a gold medal in the 2012 Games, said the greater meaning of working with wrestlers from Iran certainly wasn't lost on him.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "I think wrestling is one of the sports that descends all politics so even though we may be opponents on the mat, we’re coming together for a greater cause."
While the Iranians' trip to the United Nations may have raised eyebrows of passer-bys, wrestling has long been a tie between the two countries, said 2000 Olympian Rulon Gardner.
"I've known Iranians, Iraqis, I met wrestlers from all over the world and the common bond is wrestling and the common bond is humanity," he said. "To give someone a handshake and look them in the eye -- that's respect and that goes a long way whether in athletics or in the government."
As for the fate of that greater cause, saving wrestling, the feeling all around on Tuesday was that it could be kept once the IOC heard their proposed changes.
"I think the sport of wrestling, by itself, is awesome, but often needs to be showcased better,” said Beat the Street chairman Mike Novogratz, a financier who has been a vocal advocate for wrestling in the Olympics. “I think one of the lessons of the last six months is the whole community needs to get together and show case the sport a little better than we have been.”
But Gardner, who has appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and visited the State Department to push wrestling's cause, said he'd breathe a sigh of relief when the decision came in their favor.
"You can never truly trust a political organization (like the IOC)," he said. "Right now there may be a few people out there who just don’t like wrestling and we can’t take anything for granted at this point."
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