May 31, 2013 – The Iranian wrestling team cut short its first visit to the United States since 2003 on Friday, May 17th, flying home to Iran and prompting widespread speculation about the reasons for the abrupt departure.
The team had competed against the Americans and Russians in Grand Central Terminal in New York City, where the Iranians won six of their seven matches. They were scheduled to participate in the “United 4 Wrestling” event in Los Angeles. According to Bill Scherr, a former Olympic official who is now a member of the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, they appeared to enjoy their stay in New York and were eager to come to LA, home to many Iranian Americans.
While relations between the U.S. and Iranian governments have been troubled in recent years, American and Iranian wrestlers have been on very friendly terms. Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board announced that wrestling would not be included in the 2020 games. U.S. and Iranian wrestling officials, together with the Russians, united to keep their sport in. The vote is scheduled for September.
Iranian sports teams have withdrawn from international competitions in the past. On the 16th, the Iranian team began giving hints they were going to leave. American wrestling officials, together with the State Department, tried to persuade them not to do so. The next day, Iran’s media reported that team officials had security concerns, and that U.S. officials would not guarantee their safety on the West Coast. However, Craig Sesker, a spokesman for USA Wrestling, said: “That’s a total fabrication. The only thing I know is that they made a schedule change and decided to return to Iran.”