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Olympics

Iran and America unite on common goal

The U.S. and Iran join forces to fight against the IOC's decision to push wrestling out of the Olympic ring.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2013 20:49
Shared passion: U.S. freestyle wrestling team arrive at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, Iran, [AP]

The caretakers of the Olympics may have inadvertently accomplished what has eluded diplomats: Galvanizing Iran and the U.S. on a common goal.

Wrestling officials from the arch foes appeared to be in bonding mode on Tuesday on the sidelines of a Tehran tournament less than a week after the stunning decision by the International Olympic Committee that will force the ancient sport - as old as the Olympics themselves - to lobby for a spot at the 2020 Games.

Already, the fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics has brought the U.S. and Cuban federations into a possible alliance. But close cooperation between Iran and America would be an even more remarkable display of common cause with almost everything else driving them apart - led by an impasse over Tehran's nuclear program and Western sanctions that have upended the Iranian economy.

"Those (countries) really do make a difference because politically we're not always on the same page... but in wrestling, there's no doubt that we are all together in this effort and we consider Iran one of our strongest allies"

USA Wrestling director, Mitch Hull

It's unlikely that any kind of wrestling detente would spill over into the wider issues, but it's certain to at least draw attention to the power of sports as a low-risk icebreaker going back to the historic 1971 'pingpong diplomacy' between China and the U.S. 

"We'll be standing arm-in-arm with Iran, and we'll be standing with Russia as we will with lots of other countries,'' said Mitch Hull, national teams director for USA Wrestling, in an interview in Tehran with AP Television News before the World Cup Tournament.

"Those (countries) really do make a difference because politically we're not always on the same page, or politically with Russia, but in wrestling, there's no doubt that we are all together in this effort and we consider Iran one of our strongest allies in the sport of wrestling,'' Hull said. 

Hull described them as 'sport rivals, but they are friends in sport, too.'

"We have great confidence that we can work with the Iranian wrestling federation, Iranian wrestlers and the Iranian people to show the world that, no matter what's happening politically, we have the same goal and the same belief and passion about the sport of wrestling," he said.

United front

U.S. wrestling coach Zeke Jones called the sport an important 'ambassador' that has 'brought closer the people of Iran and the U.S.' - both often on the medals podium at the Olympics.

"I am sure the world will become united in support of wrestling, and this will lead to a change of the view of the IOC. It will keep wrestling in the Olympics,'' Jones was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Mehr news agency after arriving in Iran with his team.

Hojatollah Khatib, the head of Iran's wrestling federation, said the tournament would offer "the best opportunity to confront the decision" to drop the sport from the Olympics.

"I am sure the world will become united in support of wrestling, and this will lead to a change of the view of the IOC. It will keep wrestling in the Olympics"

U.S. wrestling coach Zeke Jones

"We should resist the decision, determinedly," Khatib was quoted by the Mehr agency as saying.

"We should show our unity in the current event."

On Monday, U.S. wrestling officials agreed to create a special committee charged with seeking to save Olympic wrestling, which will remain in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. But it must compete against seven other events - including squash, roller sports and wakeboarding - for one open slot in the 2020 Games, which have yet to be awarded to a host city.

Iran also has said it is looking to join wrestling's 'big powers' to reverse the IOC decision. Last week, Iran's wrestling federation and its Olympic committee said they would send a protest letter to the IOC.

The independent Etemad newspaper ran a report that described the 'axis' of wrestling - Iran, the United States and Russia - as joining forces to keep the sport in the Olympics.

For Iran, it's a mission of serious importance. Wrestling is considered by many to be something of a national sport - not as popular as soccer or with the deep Persian roots of polo, but one that gives Iran a chance to shine in international competitions. Wrestling also is Iran's major medal sport at the Olympics.

Iran won three gold medals, its first in the Greco-Roman division, out of six overall in wrestling at the London Games, and the U.S. took two gold medals out of four overall.

"Do we destroy our historical sites which are symbols of humanity? No. Then, why should we destroy wrestling?" Iranian gold medalist Ali Reza Dabir said shortly after the IOC decision on February 13.

814

Source:
AP
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