Iranian Wrestling Federation President Alireza Dabir says he had ‘no choice but to cancel’ an Iranian-American meeting after several visa applications submitted by the Iranian delegation were rejected by US authorities.
In a letter to his American counterpart, Dabir lamented that he and five others were denied visas and therefore could not attend the event in Arlington, Texas, scheduled for February 12.
The head of the federation also complained about what he called ‘offensive’ treatment by US authorities towards one of the Iranian candidates, who had been ‘questioned in the form of questioning for five hours’. at the American consulate in Dubai.
With no official diplomatic relations between Tehran and the United States, Iranian and American visa applicants are required to apply through third-party missions to visit the other country.
Still, the Sydney Olympic medalist offered the US team a visit to Iran, promising them “that my hospitable and wrestling-loving Iranian colleagues will welcome you with open arms.”
Dabir did not say whether US visa officials explained why the applications were rejected.
But the former champion has been making headlines, stirring controversy and drawing criticism in the run-up to the now-canceled event.
In a TV interview in early January, the federation’s president went political expressing his admiration for Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike two years ago .
“We keep singing ‘death to America,’ but what matters is that we demonstrate it in action,” he said in reference to the slogan that has been central to revolutionary ideology and anti-Western Islamic Republic.
Amid mounting criticism in the United States, Dabir received a blessing from Iranian officials. The country’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, came to the defense of the former wrestler, calling on US authorities to abandon “the politicization of sport”.
However, among ordinary Iranians, Dabir’s remarks were interpreted much more differently. Many questioned his “death remarks to America” as an explicit contradiction to the fact that he already held a US green card.
Again, he came out on live television in his own defense, saying he renounced his citizenship and returned his green card to US officials several years ago, telling them “I don’t like your country”.
The visa denial debate also sparked the case of Navid Afkari, the wrestler who was executed by Iranian authorities in 2020 despite international outcry to stop the verdict.
Afkari was arrested after taking part in an anti-government rally in 2017. He was found guilty of murdering a security official at the same protest. And the proceedings were based on confessions which he said had been extracted by extreme torture techniques.
“The Wrestling Federation and [its president] Alireza Dabir left Navid Afkari hanging to dry as he languished in solitary confinement,” the former Iranian Greco-Roman wrestling team coach tweeted. Sardar Pachaeiwho lives in exile in the United States.
“Today, Dabir and his companions were refused entry to American soil. … This small victory is dedicated to the innocent soul of champion Navid Afkari,” Pachaei said.