USA Wrestling Rich Bender Column: ...

Rich Bender Column: Support wrestling’s strong comeback in 2021

By Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director | Sept. 11, 2020, 10:46 a.m. (ET)

Rich Bender image courtesy of FloWrestling

As the Summer of 2020 ends and we head into autumn, who would have expected that we are still dealing with COVID-19 challenges after the whole world shut down way back in March? The pandemic has remained a harsh reality in our lives and continues to affect every aspect of what we do on earth.

For many, it may seem like all that has been going on in wrestling has been the postponement or cancellation of competition and training. For sure, that has happened. However, there has been much work at USA Wrestling and within the entire sport planning for the safe return of wrestling at all levels.

USA Wrestling has formed four COVID-19 committees of experts who are helping educate the sport and guide our decisions. We have developed Return to the Mat Guidelines and Return to Events Guidelines to organize wrestling in the safest environment possible. We have been very creative in how we engage the wrestling community through new methods of communication and training. We have also fully participated in the national discussion about social justice and equality, with a unified commitment to be better moving forward.

USA Wrestling has been blessed during the pandemic to continue working hard for our sport and members. Due to many prudent financial decisions by our volunteer leaders over the years, much shared sacrifice at all levels, and some fortunate timing of when the pandemic hit, USA Wrestling has been able to maintain its commitment and financial support for its National Team athletes, while employing its national staff in full. We understand that there are many more challenges in front of us, and that there will be additional hard decisions to make. We truly believe we can weather this storm by working together towards a common goal of bringing back our sport completely.

Since the pandemic has affected our nation differently, not only on a state-by-state basis, but also depending upon the status in local communities, we have been able to host some USA Wrestling summer wrestling competitions. This allowed us to not only provide opportunity for athletes to compete, but also a chance to put our planning and safety guidelines into practice. We continue to learn and adjust, always putting the health and safety of our members as the first and dominant priority.

We are already seeing massive changes in what high school and college wrestling will look like in 2020-21. All across the nation, we are seeing delayed seasons, shortened seasons, cancelled championships and reduced opportunity. These decisions have a real impact on those who participate in our sport. USA Wrestling stands ready to fill the void when a need arises and we can provide events and programs in a safe way.

Our organization is blessed to have both a strong national structure, as well as an effective state and local system through our state associations. USA Wrestling has the ability and desire to host competitions for youth, high school and college athletes as needed, while keeping our pledge to follow all state and local health requirements. Through our high school team membership program, as well as our club structure, we can provide opportunities to wrestle. We are here to help.

There is one way that you, as a USA Wrestling member, can help us to move forward and bring back our sport. If you are in a situation where you are financially able, we ask that you purchase your 2020-21 USA Wrestling membership now. The ability to renew membership for the new season opened up on August 20. Wrestling may not be back in full in your community at this time, but the sport is coming back. Your membership purchase will not only give you a full year of benefits, including exciting new programs, but also allow USA Wrestling the financial ability to continue its work on behalf of the entire sport. Our Olympic-caliber athletes will be able to continue to prepare, and our national, state and local events and programs can continue to be organized.

Likewise, if you are a fan of wrestling, continue to follow the sport by watching broadcasts, reading magazines and visiting websites, thus supporting our media companies. You can continue to be a consumer of wrestling products and services, keeping our wrestling businesses alive. There are other ways you can participate in wrestling during this tough time.

The 2021 year has the potential to be an exciting time for wrestling. With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, we are now scheduled to compete in wrestling at the Summer Games from August 1-7, 2021. In addition, United World Wrestling has scheduled a Senior World Championships for after the Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway. USA Wrestling has qualified for the Tokyo Games in 15 of the 18 weight classes, the most of any nation, and we have an opportunity to add more. Our Senior and age-group teams are talented and experienced, with the ability to have great success. It will also be very exciting to see the sport return at every level. We look forward to seeing youth, high school, college and international wrestlers back on the mat.

We invite you to remain a part of USA Wrestling as we continue to navigate the current challenges and build on the strong foundation of our sport. By renewing your membership and encouraging others to join the USA Wrestling family, you will be part of wrestling’s comeback.