As a direct response to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, Iran has banned U.S. wrestlers from entering the country for the Freestyle World Cup competition later this month.
Bahram Ghasemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said that Trump’s executive order — which, among other things, bans all Iranians from entering the United States for the next 90 days — left the nation no other choice, the Associated Press reports.
The Freestyle World Cup, which will be held February 16–17 in Kermanshah, is one of the most prestigious international wrestling competitions in the world. USA Wrestling had already purchased plane tickets, gone through the visa approval process, and made hotel arrangements for the tournament.
“I think this was a great opportunity for us to show goodwill toward them by coming into a country where our governments may have opposed each other.”
The news on Friday morning that they would no longer be permitted to make the trip came as a surprise. As recently as Thursday, U.S. coach Bill Zadick was still planning on the team making the trip, despite the fact that Iran responded to Trump’s Muslim ban by announcing over the weekend that it wouldn’t allow Americans to enter the country indefinitely.
Jordan Burrough, the five-time world champion, was particularly looking forward to the Freestyle World Cup. Not only was it supposed to be his first major international competition since his disappointing showing at the Rio Olympics, but Iran is also his favorite place to compete because its citizens have an unparalleled passion for and appreciation of wrestling.
“There is such a common respect for wrestlers in Iran,” Burroughs told Nick Zaccardi of Olympic Talk. “They love wrestling. They’re huge fans of mine. I’m bummed about that. I really wanted to be part of something great in what I consider a great country. Obviously, my views and our country’s views are different.”
Sports has often been a way to bridge divides during times of international political conflicts. The United States and the Soviet Union regularly hosted one another for major sporting competitions during the Cold War, and in the past couple of decades, Iranians have made 16 visits to the United States as guests of USA Wrestling. While USA Wrestling did stop travelling to Iran for competitions for 20 years, since 1998, the team has attended wrestling competitions in Iran 15 times, including as recently as 2013.
The White House is ramping up hostilities toward Iran (draft)The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran on Friday, after a week of escalating hostility toward the…medium.comBut tensions between the two countries have been escalating dramatically since Trump took office. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that it’s clear that the United States is now against the Iranian people; on Thursday, Trump tweeted that Iran was officially “ON NOTICE;” and early on Friday, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would continue its missile program, despite objections from the United States.
Hours later, Trump’s administration announced new sanctions on Iran.
Burroughs knows that this is all much bigger than wrestling, but that doesn’t keep him from being disappointed — not only for himself and his teammates, but also about what it means about the status of the conflict between the two nations.
“No one out there — Donald Trump or the prime minister of Iran — is purposely slighting the U.S. wrestling team,” Burroughs said. “This is a much bigger picture and a much bigger story than our wrestling tournaments, but I’m bummed because I think this was a great opportunity for us to show goodwill toward them by coming into a country where our governments may have opposed each other.”
UPDATE: Iran announced that it lifted this ban on USA Wrestling on February 5.