AMERICAN diplomats yesterday threw their weight behind an Iranian protest at the surprise recommendation by the International Olympic Committee this month to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games.
The intervention came as an Iranian delegation visited Almaty, in Kazakhstan, for talks with world powers to resolve a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, which threatens to precipitate a Middle East war.
A US official said after the start of the talks: “During the plenary, we did note Iran’s success in the recent wrestling World Cup and our shared view that wrestling should continue to be an Olympic sport.”
Iran and six world powers are holding their first meeting in eight months in Almaty to try to break a stalemate over Iran’s nuclear plans, though to be geared towards creating a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Diplomatic ties between Iran and the US have been cut since 1980 after Iranian students took 52 US diplomats hostage in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
But wrestling, one of Iran’s most popular sports, has proven a rare arena in which the two countries have friendly relations.
US wrestlers visited Tehran last week to compete in the World Cup, where 2012 Olympic gold medallist Jordan Burroughs was cheered on by Iranian fans at the capital’s Azadi stadium.
“Iran has amazing fans!” Burroughs tweeted, posting a picture of Iranian supporters reaching to touch his hand.
A second US official told reporters in Almaty prior to the talks that Iran and the US agreed that wrestling should continue as an Olympic sport
“Although we cannot come to agreement yet where it comes to Iran’s nuclear programme, clearly our wrestlers get along just fine,” he said. “We and Iran agree completely that the Olympics should continue to have wrestling as a sport … so we will be working vigorously with them to make that come to pass.”
Wrestling is a major source of Iran’s Olympic medals. “The issue is very serious,” Mohammad Aliabadi, the head of Iran’s Olympic committee said this month. “We must prevent this action with the help of many of the major countries in the world.”