Iran-born athlete denied entry to U.S. as officials work to ensure access

Scott Blackmun
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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. government has told the U.S. Olympic Committee that the travel ban put in place over the weekend shouldn’t impact athletes traveling to the United States for international events.

But one athlete has already been affected. Iranian-born Icelandic taekwondo fighter Meisam Rafiei said he was denied entry into the U.S. for this week’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas, according to Iceland newspaper Morgunbladid and reports citing his Facebook page and USA Taekwondo.

“Was on my way to US Open to compete for Iceland with my icelandic passport and was denied because I was born in Iran,” the Facebook post with a picture said.

In a statement Monday, USOC leaders said the government told them it would work to ensure athletes from all countries would have expedited access to the United States for international competitions.

A World Cup archery event is scheduled for Las Vegas on Feb. 10.

Iran, one of the seven countries listed on the ban, brought one archer, Zahra Nemati, to last year’s Olympics. The status of Iran’s archery team for the World Cup is not known.

The U.S. wrestling team travels to Iran next month for a World Cup event, and the head of the federation said plans are still in place for that trip.

Other events in the United States later this year include the Boston Marathon and Prefontaine Classic in track and field, World Cup cycling events and another World Cup archery contest. When those events take place, the impact of the ban and its legality could be different than it is currently.

“We’re in contact with (track’s international federation) and the USOC, and we’re all committed to doing whatever we can for athletes to travel however they need to for events,” said Jill Geer of USA Track and Field.

All this comes with the International Olympic Committee set to award the 2024 Olympics in September. Los Angeles is a finalist, along with Paris and Budapest, Hungary.

In a statement, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti depicted the bid as one for “a low-risk Games that gathers nations together, showcases American values, and brings benefits, not burdens, to our community.”

“I am confident that the IOC will evaluate our bid on these merits,” he said.

In announcing their latest contact with the government, USOC chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun issued a joint statement Monday recognizing that “the Olympic Movement was founded based upon principles of diversity and inclusion.”

“We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for the safety and security of a nation,” the statement said. “It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”

MORE: U.S. wrestlers set to head to Iran