The United States’ top freestyle wrestlers have been barred from a much-anticipated international tournament in Iran this month, prohibited by the host nation from entering the country in retaliation for President Trump’s recent travel ban.
The decision, first announced Friday by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), is in response to President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning the entry of citizens from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries as well as refugees worldwide into the United States.
The U.S. freestyle wrestlers were slated to compete in the World Cup tournament Feb. 16-17 in Kermanshah, Iran. The American squad was to include Kyle Snyder, the Woodbine, Md., native who won gold at the Rio Olympics, and Jordan Burroughs, the three-time world champion and gold medalist from the 2012 Summer Games.
Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, said Friday afternoon that he still hadn’t been formally notified that the American wrestlers would not be granted visas but was “extremely disappointed” by the news.
“I’m disappointed for the wrestlers who have been working for this and now won’t have this opportunity,” Bender said. “We were hoping politics wouldn’t have this kind of impact, but apparently that has been the case.”
IRNA quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, as saying that a special committee reviewed the case, according to the Associated Press. “Eventually the visit by the U.S. freestyle wrestling team was opposed,” he said.
Shortly after Trump’s order went into effect, the Iranian government announced it would limit visas to Americans and threatened retaliatory measures. But despite the public posturing by the respective governments, the U.S. team had been hopeful it would be allowed to travel to Iran. Bender told The Washington Post earlier this week that through back channels he had received assurances that the American athletes would be allowed to enter Iran.
The U.S. travel party — about 20 people in all, including athletes and staff — had been preparing for the trip for months. Airline tickets were purchased, and the Americans were scheduled to leave the United States next week for Iran, a country with a rich wrestling history.
Bender said the tournament would have marked the 16th time the United States had competed in Iran, dating from the 1998 Takhti Cup in Tehran. That tournament was the setting for a groundbreaking opening between Iran and the United States. The U.S. wrestlers became the first American sports team to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The wrestlers received a warm reception, and the Stars and Stripes was flown in post-revolution Iran for the first time in a place on honor. The event opened the door for other U.S. sports and cultural exchanges, too.
“In the past, wrestling has played an important role in diplomacy,” Bender said. “This looks like a setback for sure. But it doesn’t necessarily impact our relationship with the Iranian wrestling federation.”
The Olympic world has been slowly processing the implications of Trump’s executive order this week. The U.S. Olympic Committee said Monday that it had received assurances from the federal government that “it will work with us to ensure that athletes and officials from all countries will have expedited access to the United States in order to participate in international athletic competitions.”
While that news might comfort athletes coming to the United States to compete, the American wrestlers traveling to Iran were still dependent on Iran granting them visas.
The IOC’s athletes’ commission sent a message Friday advising athletes who either were carrying passports or were born in one of the seven affected nations — or who had traveled to any of those countries in the past five years — to contact the USOC, which would then work with the State Department to secure travel visas.
“We believe that all sportspersons must be treated on the basis of equality, and the absence of this can never be compensated,” the athletes’ commission said in a statement. “We hope that the work between the USOC and the US government will bring a solution that has a minimal impact on athletes, events and the sports world as a whole.”
Trump’s order has drawn particular attention to the United States’ attempt to host the Summer Olympics in 2024, with some longtime Olympic observers saying it could have a negative impact on a bid by Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is competing with Paris and Budapest to host the 2024 Olympics. The LA2024 committee formally filed its bid to host the Summer Games this week in advance of Friday’s deadline. Los Angeles submitted a cost-effective plan that utilizes many preexisting structures and facilities. Casey Wasserman, chairman of LA2024, said he is hopeful that the city’s case will be judged solely by the merits of the committee’s bid, not the country’s politics.
“When we raised our hands to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it was because we believed in the power of the movement to unite the world. That was the ability to unite the world through sport, not politics,” Wasserman said. “We believe that now, frankly, more than ever.”
The Los Angeles proposal is 127 pages long and highlights diversity 25 times, saying it is “a city full of creative energy and extraordinarily united — not separated — by its breathtaking cultural diversity.”
“The world is entering an era of unprecedented change and uncertainty, and that is why we believe that the 2024 Games must serve the Olympic Movement far beyond 2024,” the committee said in its introduction.
The IOC will vote on the 2024 host in September when it meets in Lima, Peru. Most IOC members have said little publicly about whether Trump’s order could affect the 2024 vote.
“We are confident that US authority will support the Olympic values and welcome all participants from all countries to participate in all tournaments particularly the Olympic Games,” Samih Moudallal, an IOC member from Syria, tweeted this week.
Staff writer Brian Murphy contributed to this report.