USA Wrestling said Monday that the U.S. still plans to compete next month in Iran, one of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens were temporarily banned from the U.S. by an executive order from President Donald Trump.
USA Wrestling’s Rich Bender told The Associated Press that the Americans have “every intention” of traveling to Kermanshah for the men’s freestyle World Cup on Feb. 16-17. Bender said the U.S. federation been given assurances from the Iranians that special attention is being given to their applications.
The scheduled trip to Iran will be the first major test for U.S. athletes travelling to one of the seven nations affected by Trump’s 90-day ban, issued last week.
“We’re going to respect the laws and orders of those in leadership positions in government and figure out how to embrace those and work with them to secure proper documentation for athletes to come here and us to go there,” Bender said.
Iran’s senior vice president Ishaq Jahangiri, through the official IRNA news agency, said that Trump’s executive order was “illegal, inhumane and against human rights.”
The U.S. and Iran — two of the world’s top wrestling countries — have long found common ground on the mat. The U.S. wrestling team was the first American sports team to compete in Iran in nearly 20 years back in 1998, and the Iranian team has competed in the U.S. more than a dozen times since the 1990s.
American wrestlers are typically treated well by the Iranians and their fans, too. Former Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs said this summer that he was mobbed by selfie-seeking supporters at the airport during his last trip to Tehran — and in June the Iranian Federation sent a gift to Burroughs to commemorate the birth of his daughter.
“Wrestling has shown a long, rich history of transcending politics and participating despite governmental disagreements,” Bender said. “That’s the beauty of sport and the Olympic movement. It’s about competition, not politics.”
USA Wrestling plans to send 13 wrestlers, two coaches, a referee, a medical staff member, a videographer and other official delegates to Kermanshah, which is in western Iran some 310 miles southwest of Tehran.
The annual World Cups in each discipline are among the most prestigious tournaments in the world. Iran will also host the Greco-Roman World Cup in Tehran in March.
The U.S. team has yet to be fully approved to make the trip to Iran. But Bender said that last-minute approvals to travel there are commonplace because of how long the process can take.
“Reasonable people would say ‘Well, why would you go through that hassle and take that risk of not going?” Well, the reward is the competition. It’s really important for our athletes,” Bender said.