World Middle East First Look

US wrestlers' World Cup plans dashed, as Iran announces its own travel ban

USA Wrestling will not be attending this month's Freestyle World Cup, after Iran responded to Trump's executive order on immigration with a ban of its own.

In this Friday, March 13, 2009 file photo, Iran's free style wrestler Fardin Masoumi, left, and his U.S. competitor Tervel Dlagnev, fight during Iran's Takhti Wrestling Cup at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran. Iran on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 banned U.S. wrestlers from participating in the Freestyle World Cup competition this month in response to President Donald Trump's executive order forbidding visas for Iranians, according to an official IRNA news agency report.
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
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Iran has barred US wrestlers from attending one of their sport’s most prestigious events.

On Friday, Iran’s official news agency announced that the country’s foreign ministry would bar US competitors in the Freestyle World Cup, scheduled to take place February 16th and 17th in the Iranian city of Kermanshah.

On the campaign trail, President Trump repeatedly criticized the Obama administration's policies with Iran, vowing to tear up the 2015 nuclear deal. Since taking office, the new administration has announced new sanctions against 13 individuals and a dozen companies in response to a recent ballistic missile test, and issued an executive order to temporarily halt immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Iran’s leadership has decided to hit back, and USA Wrestling was one of the first casualties.

"The visa policy of the new American administration gave us no other option but to ban the wrestlers," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told Iranian state television.

Trump's decision may reinforce Iranian hardliners' views of the United States, as The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week:

...hardliners are using the travel ban – which immediately affects more Iranian dual citizens, green card, and visa-holders than any other nationality by far – to criticize President Hassan Rouhani.

The centrist cleric, who is up for reelection in May, negotiated a nuclear deal with six world powers in 2015, and reached out to the West. But he has won modest economic relief in return, providing an I-told-you-so moment for his hard-line critics.

Trump’s order “is a wakeup call for politicians in the Iranian government … that any rational relationship with the US based on respect and dignity is just wishful thinking,” said Ali Keyhanian, head of the Society of Islamic Revolution Supporters in Tehran, in comments quoted by Iranian media.

But for American wrestlers, the ban was a bitter disappointment.

"I love Iran," Jordan Burroughs, a four-time world champion, told the Associated Press. "I love their people, and I don't get into politics … I wasn't going to make a political stance. I was going to compete."

US and Iranian wrestling teams have each made more than a dozen visits to each other’s countries for competitions since the late 1990s. Nenad Lalovic, the president of United World Wrestling, voiced hope that this partnership would continue despite worsening relations between the two countries’ governments.

“Despite the travel restrictions between their countries I've been encouraged this week by the cooperation and friendship of the Iranian Wrestling Federation and USA Wrestling. As we've seen over the years, wrestling is a sport that unites people and nations,” he said in a statement.

“United World Wrestling hosts a full calendar of events every season and we're certain to see American and Iranian wrestlers on the same mat again in the very near future.”

This could happen on US soil. Trump’s ban on entry for Iranians is only scheduled to last three months – well before the 2018 Freestyle World Cup, scheduled to be held in Iowa City, Iowa. The Iranian team will probably qualify, the Associated Press reports.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.