American wrestlers in Iran welcomed with roses and selfies

by Erin Cunningham (source: Washington Post)
Friday, February 17, 2017

The Americans were greeted in Iran with red roses, smiling fans and a barrage of selfies. No diplomatic crisis here.

But that wasn't the case just two weeks ago. Back then — in the wake of President Trump's now-frozen travel ban — it didn't look like a group of U.S. wrestlers would be allowed to compete in one of the sport's most prestigious events. Now many are calling it a triumph of sports over politics.

“We are very happy to be here in Iran and ready to compete!” Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs wrote in a caption to an Instagram post on Tuesday, when the team landed in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah for the Freestyle World Cup.

The accompanying photo showed Burroughs, who is leading the team, surrounded by a crowd of local fans and reporters at the airport. Greeters gave the athletes roses and took selfies with Burroughs and others.

 traveling to Kermanshah.

Wrestling is wildly popular in Iran and is widely considered as the country’s national sport. Kermanshah has also served as an epicenter for wrestling in Iran.

“I love Iran. I love their people, and I don't get into politics,” Burroughs told the Associated Press on Feb. 3, after the team was notified they would not be able to travel.

“I wasn't going to make a political stance,” he said. “I was going to compete.”

Then something happened. On Feb. 5, a federal judge temporarily suspended the ban, and a higher U.S. appeals court refused the government's request to immediately reinstate the executive order.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded almost immediately on Twitter, saying the judicial decisions had prompted Iran's government to reverse course and grant visas to the U.S. wrestling team.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iranian militants seized hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 following Iran's Islamic revolution. But in 1998, a wrestling tournament in Iran offered a chance for a small opening.

A U.S. wrestling team became the first American sports team to visit Iran since the revolution. The wrestlers received a warm reception, and the event opened the door for other U.S. sports and cultural exchanges.

“This World Cup is going to be a special one!” American wrestler James Green tweeted on Feb. 1.

“We'll be bringing nations together as always,” he said. “No other sport does that like wrestling.”

Brian Murphy contributed to this post.

 


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