USA Wrestling, the national governing body for wrestling in the United States, will not send a team to compete at the 2020 Senior World Wrestling Championships, set for Belgrade, Serbia on Dec. 12-20.
USA Wrestling’s Executive Committee unanimously approved a proposal in a meeting on October 20 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,” said Bruce Baumgartner, USA Wrestling President. “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.”
The Senior World Championship meet was the only world championship event left on the 2020 calendar by the United World Wrestling (UWW), the internal wrestling federation. The other world championship events for 2020 have already been cancelled.
USA Wrestling held a series of meetings with stakeholders and subject matter experts to discuss sending a U.S. team to the Senior Worlds. 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-level athletes, including current U.S. national team athletes and athletes who placed in the top eight at the 2020 Senior Nationals earlier this month. The survey asked 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 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,” said Veronica Carlson, Executive Committee member and chairperson of the USA Wrestling Athlete Advisory Committee. “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.”
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 championship event. 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,” said Bernard Feldman, M.D., member of the USA Wrestling COVID-19 Advisory Committee and a long-time physician with USA Wrestling and United World Wrestling.
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 Feldman, M.D., member of the USA Wrestling COVID-19 Advisory Committee and a long-time physician with USA Wrestling and United World Wrestling.
A number of 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 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.