USA Wrestling’s Executive Committee, which acts on behalf of the Board of Directors between Board meetings, in an October 20 meeting, unanimously approved a proposal not to participate in the Senior World Championships due to health and safety issues caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
“The health and safety of U.S. athletes, coaches and staff is always the No. 1 concern for USA Wrestling. After reviewing updated medical, scientific and government data, and providing an opportunity for athlete and stakeholder input, the Executive Committee concluded that it would not be in the best interest of all involved to organize a delegation to travel to and participate in the Senior World Championships in Serbia,” said Bruce Baumgartner, USA Wrestling President.
On Monday, October 12, United World Wrestling (UWW), the international federation for wrestling, announced that its Executive Committee voted to approve existing plans to host the event. In the same announcement, UWW cancelled the 2020 Junior World Championships, which had been set for early December in Belgrade. The Senior World Championships is the only World Championships event left on the 2020 UWW calendar, after having cancelled all other World events at the age-group levels.
In a letter to all national wrestling federations including USA Wrestling, UWW explained that international federations would be able to enter athletes in the World Championships only through November 5. According to the UWW letter, on the 6th of November, the UWW Executive Committee “would meet to check the registrations and discuss the current situation of the pandemic around the World. During this meeting, it will be decided to keep the event or cancel it.”
USA Wrestling held a series of meetings with stakeholders and subject experts to fully discuss the issue of sending a U.S. team to the Senior Worlds and allow for input. Included were two meetings of the Executive Committee, as well as a USA Wrestling’s Athlete Advisory Committee meeting. In addition, a survey was sent to 117 Senior athletes, including current National Team athletes and athletes who placed in the top eight at the 2020 Senior Nationals. The athlete survey collected data on whether athletes would attend or not attend the Senior Worlds under a variety of different possible conditions.
In addition, two of USA Wrestling’s special subcommittees, its COVID-19 Advisory Committee and its COVID-19 Public Relations and Messaging Committee, met to discuss various aspects of the issue. The COVID-19 Advisory Committee includes medical, scientific and governmental experts who have met regularly during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Public Relations and Messaging Committee includes communications professionals which advise USA Wrestling on its public communications activities. Athlete representation is included on both committees.
“My heart breaks for our athletes, as nobody is more affected by this decision than they are. In the same breath, abstaining from the 2020 World Championships is the right decision. I am proud that the athlete voice was solicited and considered through every step of this process. In choosing to make this decision now, verses delaying it, the athletes have time to recover and refocus on what is most important — the 2021 Olympic Games,” said Veronica Carlson, Executive Committee member and chairperson of the USA Wrestling Athlete Advisory Committee.
Among the issues discussed during the process are the current status and future trends of COVID-19 at the global level, the challenges faced by international travel and government restrictions, the access to quality health care services for the delegation, as well as input from athletes and other stakeholders. Currently, the U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory for Serbia is at Level 3 (Reconsider Travel) out of four levels, with a notation to “reconsider travel to Serbia due to COVID-19.”
The Executive Committee expressed that a domestic competition could responsibly be held where USA Wrestling can closely control conditions, such as the recent Senior Nationals in Iowa. However, this is not the case with the complicated factors involved in a major World Championships. Factors which USA Wrestling can not control include the challenges with international travel, potential quarantine situations, the uncertainty of health care and medical support overseas, event operations and others. These were among the reasons that the Executive Committee made its decision.
“Based upon the current medical and scientific information concerning the status of COVID-19 worldwide, including the current surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths at the international level, it would be ill-advised to place the U.S. delegation at risk by attending this competition. The challenges associated with international travel, as well as concerns about the availability and access to top-caliber health care and services, are also major factors in the decision-making process. The idea of bringing delegations from all parts of the world together at this time, each with a different situation concerning the virus, is of great concern and could put our U.S. delegation in harm’s way,” said Bernard J. Feldman, M.D., member of the USA Wrestling COVID-19 Advisory Committee and a long-time physician with USA Wrestling and United World Wrestling.
USA Wrestling recognizes that a number of Senior athletes have expressed an interest in attending the Senior World Championships, and indicated that they are willing to personally assume the risks associated with travel and participation in the event. The Executive Committee carefully considered that sentiment, but decided that it was not in the best interest of USA Wrestling or any member of a World Championships delegation to put anyone’s health and safety at risk under current conditions.
U.S. athletes will not be able to participate independently. No athlete can participate in a UWW international wrestling competition without the involvement and approval of its national wrestling federation, which is USA Wrestling for the United States.
USA Wrestling conducted its review in accordance with its responsibilities as a National Governing Body, as detailed in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, in respect to section 220525 (b)(4) concerning: (E) proper medical supervision will be provided for athletes who will participate in the competition; (F) proper safety precautions have been taken to protect the personal welfare of the athletes and spectators at the competition.
USA Wrestling made a similar decision in 2002, when it decided not to attend the Senior World Freestyle Championships in Tehran, Iran. USA Wrestling received specific and credible information from an official source that the safety of the U.S. delegation could not be guaranteed if a USA Wrestling delegation attended the World Championships in Tehran.