Iran bans U.S. wrestlers from entering country for meet

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Friday banned U.S. wrestlers 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.

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.

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. 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 centers 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.”

Wrestling is extremely popular in Iran and is rooted in an ancient practice of combining the sport with physical education and meditation.

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