Fortress' Novogratz 'Wrestles' With Olympic Committee
Michael Novogratz, the principal and director for Fortress Investments, does not mince words.
He wrestled at Princeton. He flew helicopters in the Army. He doesn't mess around — especially when it comes to the sport he loves, which was recently voted out of the Olympics.
"I am 100-percent confident, not even 90, that they will overturn the decision," he told CNBC on Thursday.
Novogratz is the spokesman for the committee charged with overturning an International Olympic Committee preliminary vote to remove wrestling as an Olympic sport.
The vote shocked the larger-than-you-think wrestling world, and the backlash has been intense.
"On social media, it's 99-to-1. People are saying, 'What the heck?'" Novogratz said.
However, a reversal doesn't depend on sentiment on the Twitter-verse — although it certainly helps. It's decided by the IOC.
There is another vote in late May in Russia — incidentally, a huge wrestling country — and the final vote will be in September.
For people like Novogratz, it's time to kick diplomacy and politics into high gear.
There are 180 countries that wrestle, and in the U.S. there are more than 270,000 American athletes who self-identify as wrestlers. Novogratz noted it's close to 400,000 in Iran.
"We've had a long and rich history and relationship with the Iranian Wrestling Federation," USA Wrestling's Executive Director Rich Bender told CNBC from Iran, where the U.S. team recently competed in the wrestling World Cup. "We've competed with one another and we've always considered ourselves brothers and sisters in the sport of wrestling."
The two countries are collaborating on what they are calling a "Day of Wrestling" in New York on May 16. The goal is to raise awareness on the issue in advance of the next vote two weeks later in Russia.
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"I think we have a good chance," Bender said.
Sports fans may remember that when Title IX became a focus in the U.S., wrestling was cut by many colleges because there was no female equivalent sport.
When athletic departments had to comply with Title IX, they could not spend more money on men that women. So, sports that did not have direct cohorts [like men's and women's soccer] suffered cuts and a lot of wrestling programs were eliminated.
However, after that initial blow, wrestling is growing again in this country, reportedly adding 40,000 participants to the annual number of wrestlers. There are even a few thousand women involved now as well.
If the response to the initial vote was so dramatic, and wrestling's argument is so strong, it does beg that initial question: What the heck happened?
"Part of this is a political process," Michael Novogratz explained. "Wrestling [also] screwed up."
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The IOC asked for changes to the sport, and FILA, the sport's international governing body, did not respond. The head of that organization is now gone, and Novogratz, Bender et al are in damage control — but they believe their cause is completely just.
"Globally, the decision doesn't make a lot of sense," Novogratz said.
We will know in May and in September if he is right.
—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman