Alireza Dabir,  President of Iran’s Wrestling Federation in his office on February 1, 2022

Alireza Dabir, President of Iran’s Wrestling Federation in his office on February 1, 2022

‘Wrestling Diplomacy’ Pinned Down Over 'Death To America' Slogan


Alireza Dabir, President of Iran’s Wrestling Federation, has said the Iran team will not travel for friendly competitions in Arlington, Texas, due February 12.

This followed the US denying visas to six members of the Iranian party, including Dabir, two wrestlers, a coach, the team manager, and a referee. The federation president conveyed the decision in a letter to the president of USA Wrestling, Bruce Baumgartner.

Earlier, a controversy had erupted when Dabir publicly repeated the slogan "Death to America" often used by supporters of the clerical regime in Iran.

Dabir, a Sydney Olympics gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, was the first to be denied a US visa, which came after remarks he made in a television program in early January.

"We always chant ‘Death to America’ but it's important to show it in action,” Dabir said during an interview on the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by a US drone strike in Baghdad. "Some talk a lot but don’t do much. We need to prove [our beliefs] in action.”

Sardar Pashaei, an Iranian wrestler who moved to the US in 2009, called in a tweet January 5 for Dabir to be denied a visa as he was “anti-American.” Pashaei alleged that Dabir held a US ‘green card,’ which would entitle him to live and work in the US, although Dabir later explained he had surrendered the card seven years ago because he did not "like the US".

In his letter to USA Wrestling, Dabir criticized the late decision over the Iranians’ visit. “Your country’s officials refused to issue visas despite all preliminary arrangements made by members of the Iranian team, presenting all necessary documents and repeated follow-up inquiries,” he wrote, adding that US consular officials in Dubai had carried out a "five-hour-long interview-interrogation" of the team's coach.

US Team Invited To Iran

Dabir invited the US wrestling team to visit Iran to hold the competition there. "I am personally sure that you and the good American wrestlers had and have no role in these political, anti-athletic matters," he wrote, saying wrestling fans would receive them "with open arms."

In 1998, in what was widely dubbed ‘sports diplomacy,’ a wrestling team became the first US sports team to visit Iran since the 1979 Revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah. Six American wrestlers with the American flag emblazoned on their tracksuits competed at the Takhti Cup in Tehran and were cheered by Iranian wrestling fans.

Since then, the US wrestling team has visited Iran 15 times for tournaments, while Iranian wrestlers have made 16 visits to the US. In January 2017, Iran was among seven majority-Muslim nations whose citizens were banned from visiting the US by President Donald Trump.

The Iranian government bars its athletes to compete against Israelis and many Iranian sports people have gone into exile for this and other restrictions.

Pashaei, one of these athletes, welcomed the decision to bar the Iranians. "This is a clear message to those who say ‘Death to America’ and at the same time want to come to America," he tweeted Thursday.

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