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Iran, Russia, U.S. unlikely allies at the U.N. to save wrestling

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States, Iran and Russia may be at odds over issues including Syria's civil war and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but on Tuesday their wrestling teams formed an unlikely coalition at the United Nations to keep their sport in the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee's 15-member executive board sparked outcry in February when it voted to recommend that wrestling be dropped from the 2020 Olympic program in a bid to modernize the event.

The committee will make a final decision in Buenos Aires in September on which sport will get the final spot in a revamped line-up for 2020. Wrestling is battling against baseball and softball, karate, rollersports, wushu martial arts, wakeboarding, squash and climbing.

Wrestlers from Russia, Iran and the United States held a news conference at U.N. headquarters and weighed in ahead of a competition at New York's Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday designed to draw attention to a global "Keep Olympic Wrestling" campaign.

"Sport provides a common bond for countries who do not always see eye to eye," said Mike Novogratz, chairman of Beat the Streets, a wrestling program for disadvantaged New York City children that will benefit from funds raised by the competition.

"Sport is the foundation for good," said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director. "Russia, the United States and Iran really are the three best wrestling nations ... and certainly our friendship goes pretty deep through wrestling."

Wrestling was contested in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was part of the ancient Games in Olympia. It is still on the Olympic program for 2016 in Rio.

"Where I come from wrestling is not just a sport, it is a part of culture and history," said Iranian wrestling coach and Olympic gold medal winner Rasoul Khadem. "In order to save wrestling in the Olympics it is the want and the desire of people that have lived the sport ... for hundreds of years."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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