Iran bans travel of American wrestlers to Freestyle World Cup
Iran banned U.S. wrestlers on Friday from an important international tournament this month in response to President Donald Trump's executive order forbidding visas for Iranians, the official IRNA news agency reported.
A senior Iranian cleric vowed, meanwhile, that his country would continue its missile program despite threats from the Trump administration that it was preparing to levy new sanctions.
IRNA quoted Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying a special committee reviewed the case of the U.S. team for the freestyle World Cup, and "eventually the visit ... was opposed." The competition, one of the sport's most prestigious events, is set for Feb. 16-17 in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah.
The decision marks the first action taken by Iran in response to Trump's executive order banning visas for seven Muslim countries. Earlier this week, Iran said it would take retaliatory action. Ghasemi said the policy of the new U.S. administration left Iran no other choice but to ban the wrestlers.
'No place for politics'
USA Wrestling, the sport's domestic governing body, said in a statement it hasn't officially been told it won't be allowed to compete. The group added that if that is the case, USA Wrestling is "extremely disappointed" in what it calls an "unacceptable situation."
"Wrestling is about competition and goodwill through sport, and is no place for politics," the federation said.
U.S. wrestler Jordan Burroughs, a four-time world champion, was among those scheduled to compete.
"These decisions, these executive decisions, are always so far beyond your reach," he told The Associated Press. "Like, you always feel like 'Well, the presidency or these strict laws or these Muslim bans or whatever you like to call them, they'll never affect me.' This is one of the few times where something so personal has occurred. Almost like it [was] handed down from the president to us. It's a bummer."
U.S. freestyle wrestlers have competed in Iran since the 1998 Takhti Cup in Tehran, which followed an absence of nearly 20 years. Since then, Americans have attended Iran-hosted wrestling competitions 15 times. The American athletes were warmly welcomed by Iranian spectators and sport centres were packed.
The Iranians have made 16 visits to the U.S. as guests of USA Wrestling since the 1990s. The 2018 freestyle World Cup is in Iowa City, Iowa, and the Iranian team is expected to qualify.
"Though we had hoped for a different outcome from Iran's Foreign Ministry, we appreciate the complex nature of this decision," said Nenad Lalovic, president of United World Wrestling, the sport's international ruling body, said in an email to the AP. "We are currently working to find a solution for the freestyle World Cup as soon as possible."
'I was going to compete'
Wrestling is extremely popular in Iran and is rooted in an ancient practice of combining the sport with physical education and meditation.
"I love Iran. I love their people, and I don't get into politics," said Burroughs, who is coming off a disappointing showing at the recent Rio Olympics. "I wasn't going to make a political stance. I was going to compete."
Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said Iran would continue its missile program despite opposition from the U.S. government. The Trump administration said Thursday it is preparing to levy new sanctions on Iran in the first punitive action since the White House put Iran "on notice" after it test-fired a ballistic missile on Sunday.
"We have missile drills. Our missile drills are a show of our might," he said. "We are living in a world of wolves. Wolves such as the arrogant government of America. In this world of wolves should we remain unarmed and they do whatever damn things they want? No way! This will never happen!"
Khatami said the new U.S. new administration is reiterating an "old message" that has been aired by previous U.S. administrations regardless of their affiliation with Republican and Democrat parties.
"Your message is aimed at confronting religion and Islam," he said. "You have been against Islam" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday tweeted a message in which he insisted on improving the country's military program as a means of defence.
"Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security for our people," he said. "We'll never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defence."