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Mystery as Iranian Wrestlers Quit U.S. to Fly Home


Iran cut its trip short to the United States that was supposed to help showcase wrestling’s campaign to stay in the Olympics. 

The Iranians had competed at an event against the U.S. and Russia in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal last Wednesday (May 15) in a match dubbed “The Rumble on the Rails.”

Iran's trip to Los Angeles was being billed as "United4Wrestling" before the visitors decided to unexpectedly return home after their match in New York City last week.

The Iranians had come out on top 6-1 against the U.S. in an event attended by Nenad Lalovic, President of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), and were supposed to travel to Los Angeles for another match today.

But instead, they have returned to Tehran, arriving there Saturday morning.

They reportedly claimed that they had security fears and were concerned that American officials could not guarantee their safety in Los Angeles.

“That’s a total fabrication,” said Craig Sesker, a spokesman for USA Wrestling, told the Los Angeles Times. “The only thing I know is that they made a schedule change and decided to return to Iran.”

USA Wrestling instead hosted Russian and Canadian teams in a “United 4 Wrestling” event at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

The event featuring the Iranians had been hailed as an illustration of how united the world’s wrestling community are behind its attempts to save its place on the Olympic program.

The U.S. and Iran have had no diplomatic relations with each other following the Iran Revolution in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini replaced Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’, who had assumed power following a coup orchestrated by the CIA.

The U.S. has enforced a trade embargo on Iran since 1995, and in recent times there have been regular disputes between the two countries over Iran’s rights to follow a nuclear program.

But in February, a few days after the International Olympic Committee Executive Board controversially decided to recommend that wrestling be removed from the list of core sports after Rio 2016, Americans joined Iranian competitors in Tehran to protest about the decision, with members of the U.S. freestyle wrestling team even shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Wrestling is Iran’s biggest and most popular sport, with several million registered participants, and is their most successful Olympic discipline.

Of the 15 gold medals Iran has won in the Olympics since they made their debut at Paris in 1900, eight have come in wrestling, including three at London 2012.

The determination to save wrestling’s Olympic place led to the Iranians agreeing to visit the U.S. for the two-match series.

Even an appeal from the U.S. State Department for the Iranians to compete in Los Angeles failed to persuade them to change their minds about cutting short their trip.

“Iran’s obligation to save wrestling as an Olympic sport has been fulfilled at this juncture by its decisive victory and the presence of its representatives at the United Nations headquarters in line with the plans of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles,” said a statement from the Iran Wrestling Federation.

Bill Scherr, the former chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee who is heading the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, claimed that the Iranians had not appeared to feel threatened at any time during their visit to New York.

“The event in Los Angeles was secondary,” Scherr told the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe they accomplished what they came to do.”

Contact the writer of this story at duncan.mackay@insidethegames.biz. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article is reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.


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