Source: Islamic Republic News Agency
Rich Bender: Iranian wrestlers preferred to return to Tehran
New York, May 17, IRNA - Executive Director of US Wrestling Federation Rich Bender said here Friday, ˈWe could not accept responsibility of Iranian Wrestling Team in Los Angeles, and therefore the Iranians preferred to return to Tehran.
Photos: Iran joins US charity wrestling event in New York - Iranian wrestlers participated in a New York charity event dubbed "The Rumble on Rails" at Grand Central Station, facing off against their U.S. and Russian adversaries on May 15, with Iran defeating the U.S. 6 to 1. 5/16/13
Bender added in an interview with IRNA New York correspondent, ˈThe Iranian and US Free Style wrestling teams were scheduled to have a 2nd set of friendly competitions in Los Angeles on Sunday, but we announced that despite our previous vowed commitments, we were not in a position to accept the responsibility of the Iranian teamˈs presence in Los Angeles, which was the main reason why the Iranians preferred to return to Tehran right away.ˈ
He added, ˈUnfortunately, the non-sports side-events are beyond our control, which is why we are sorry and we do understand the conditions with which the Iranians were entangled in United States.ˈ
On elections to choose the FILA head, Bender said, ˈThe US Wrestling Federationˈs favorite for heading FILA is Nenad Lalovic, whom I hope would manage to maintain the presence of wrestling in 2020 Olympic Games.ˈ
Focusing on the United States plans for promoting the wrestling culture, he said, ˈWe work of low age groups, particularly the teen aged enthusiasts of wrestling and we would try to introduce this sport as far a possible to the public.ˈ
Asked about the main objective behind sponsoring the Rumble on the Rails wrestling competitions, Bender said, ˈWrestling must remain in the Olympic Games and we must try to get back this athletic sport to its deserved main status by planning various programs.ˈ
He reiterated, ˈThe gathering of the Iranian, US, and Russian wrestling teams at the UN New York Headquarters which was the first of its kind in wrestling provided a very appropriate and unique opportunity for preserving this sport at the Olympics.ˈ
IRNA asked Bender how come the US Wrestling Federation had not invited the Iranian Greco Roman Wrestling Team for participation at the friendly competitions. Bender said, ˈThe Rumble of the Rails wrestling competitions were held between the US and the Russian Free Style champions during the previous years, but this year these competitions had also a special objective, which was preserving the presence of wrestling in Olympic Games.ˈ
At the end the US Wrestling Federation official pointed out that the Free Style wrestling is more attractive in the United States, saying, ˈThe Russians had requested to face our teams with a combination of their Free Style, Greco Roman, and womenˈs teams, and since the Free Style Iran-US wrestling competitions have been historically attractive, and your country does not have the womenˈs wrestling sports field, we accepted the Russiansˈ request, but if the Iranian team would not have been invited, the Russians, too, would have brought only their Free Style team.ˈ
Having cancelled their Los Angeles competitions schedule, the Iranian Free Style Wrestling team is scheduled to arrive back in Tehran on Saturday morning.
Weighing of Free-Style Friendly Iran-US-Russia Wrestling Championship games was held at New York UN Headquarters and Iranian wrestlers found their competitors in the friendly games.
According to the IRNA correspondent at the UN Headquarters, Tuesday morning local time here, the head coaches and wrestlers of these three countries, Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States, and the Russian Federation, who had come to the headquarters of this international body on an invitation extended to them by the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) also had a meeting with the press.
The coaches and champions of the three major world powers in wrestling at this press conference unanimously asked for keeping the wrestling competitions at the Olympics.
Photos: Teams From U.S., Iran, Russia Back Olympic Wrestling - Wrestlers from the United States, Iran, and Russia have appeared jointly at the United Nations to promote the value of wrestling. The teams, which are in New York for a wrestling exhibition on May 15 at New York's Grand Central Station railway terminal, hope to apply pressure on the International Olympic Committee to keep their sport in the Olympics. 5/15/13
The major issue around the axis of the upcoming trilateral friendly championship is obviously these three countriesˈ shared concern about keeping the attractive wrestling games in the Olympics.
Then it came time for the weighing and the three countriesˈ champions mounted the scales one after the other amid a very friendly and athletic atmosphere.
The Iran-US Friendly was held on Wednesday, 3:30.
The trilateral friendly was broadcasted live on a number of US TV channels.
American, Iranian and Russian wrestlers hope their unity will sway the IOC to keep their sport in the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee has recommended the sport be dropped for the 2020 Games.
US Coach Zeke Jones says: ˈWeˈre going to show the world that the United States, Iran and Russia, through the vehicle of wrestling, we can bring people together.ˈ
This is the fourth straight year a major wrestling exhibition has been held at a famous New York City locale to raise money for charity. But the event takes on an added significance after Februaryˈs unexpected IOC decision.
Iranˈs National Freestyle wrestling team overpowered its opponents from the US on its soil, in a friendly match, Iranˈs Mehr news agency reported.
The match took place in New Yorkˈs Madison Square Garden, where Iran came out victorious with a 6-1 final score.
The fans waving Iranian flags and stomping on the temporary bleachers were treated to a show of dominance by the wrestling power, as Iran was visiting the United States for the first time in a decade.
ˈItˈs typical Iranian. Wherever we go, they do the same thing,ˈ two-time world champion Mehdi Taqavi Kermani said through a translator after winning his match at 145-and-a-half pounds. CBS News reported.
Iran also was also scheduled to face the US in Los Angeles on Sunday.
In March, Iranˈs Wrestling Federation confirmed that the US authorities sent an invitation to the Iranian side, which was accepted.
Iran and the US had recently joined forces to try and keep the wrestling from being excluded from the 2020 Olympic Games.
The friendly match was organized in a move to let the International Olympic Committee change its decision about excluding wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games.
AFP reported citing the executive director of USA Wrestling, Rich Bender that US ˈneeds the backing of Iran and Russia, to preserve the wrestling, and this goes beyond politicsˈ.
Bender noted that Iran is one of the powers in wrestling and can defend the gameˈs credibility.
Speaking at a ceremony hosted by the Iranian Wrestling Federation, he said he hoped that, with the ˈcomprehensive unityˈ among the wrestling power-houses, the IOC will change its decision.
The head of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, Hojatollah Khatib, said he hopes that ˈthis unprecedented unityˈ can change the International Olympic Committeeˈs decision.
The IOCˈs executive board in February voted to drop wrestling as one of the core sports of the games. That means it now joins seven others - baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, climbing, wakeboarding and Wushu - vying to be selected as an ˈadditional sport.ˈ
Wrestling is now one of the eight sports seeking to fill one spot in the 2020 Olympics. The IOC board will meet May 29 in Russia to recommend a short list, with the final decision in September.
Wrestling first appeared in 708 BC and has only ever been left out of the Olympic program once before in 1900.
Wrestling has an ancient history in Iran, dating back when Persian kings would battle their opponents in epic matches. The sport attracts millions of followers across the country, and unofficial figures say tens of thousands actually go to the mats.
Iran was one of the first nations to criticize the move to scrap the sport, dubbing it a ˈbig blowˈ to the countryˈs sport which has been medal winner for the country.
Iran and the United States have at least one urgent interest in common: Their wrestling federations are teaming up to salvage wrestling for the 2020 Olympics after the Olympic Committee recommended dropping the sport in February 2013. The Iranian and American teams are holding friendly matches - the last previously scheduled to be held in Los Angeles on May 19, but cancelled - to raise the sportˈs profile before the committee makes a final decision in September.
Despite tensions between their governments, the American and Iranian wrestling organizations have developed a unique relationship over the past two decades. Iranˈs national team has competed in the United States 10 times since 1995.
US participation in Iranˈs 1998 Takhti Cup marked the first visit by an American sports team since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The team has competed in Iran 10 other times since then. Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, discusses the US-Iran wrestling relationship.
Garrett Nada: What is the nature of the US-Iran wrestling relationship?
Rich Bender: We have a positive and strong relationship built on years of competition. The US team has been to Iran 11 times. I have been on four of those tours, and the atmosphere has always been really positive. We have been greeted with open arms. Iranians have shown our athletes a great deal of respect on and off the field of play. Iranians have a high degree of wrestling knowledge, and they appreciate high-level competition. They have been really supportive of our athletes and have cheered them on. Most US-Iran interaction revolves around competitions and exchanges, with the exception of our current joint effort to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympics.
GN: How are Iran and the United States coordinating their efforts to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympics?
RB: I visited Iran for the freestyle World Cup in mid-February, less than a week after the Olympic committee recommended dropping wrestling. After I landed in Tehran, I immediately started talking to my Iranian counterparts about ways to collaborate.
The international wrestling federation and 177 nations, including Iran and the United States, have launched a coordinated effort to retain wrestling as an Olympic sport. Our two federations are hosting the Los Angeles and New York matches in conjunction with ˈWorld Wrestling Month.ˈ
GN: What difference do matches like these have on diplomacy with Iran? What is the role of sports between nations?
RB: Sports are a force for good. They bring people together. And interaction increases understanding and lowers barriers. Love of sports is a commonality even among nations that see things differently in terms of politics and religion.
ˈPing-pong diplomacyˈ had a positive impact on the US-China relationship in the early 1970s. The exchange of players helped pave the way for President Richard Nixonˈs 1972 visit to Beijing.
Wrestling in particular is one of the best sports to provide the opportunity for collaboration. The upcoming exchanges in Los Angeles and New York will feature some intense matchups. But the events are solely about raising wrestlingˈs profile. The US and Iranian teams want to make a strong case for keeping wrestling in the Olympics.
GN: How do the two teams compare?
RB: Iran, Russia and the United States have the top three teams in freestyle wrestling. Iranˈs team won six medals at the 2012 Olympics, including three golds. Iran has won 38 medals in wrestling since 1948. In the 2012 games, the US team took four medals, including two golds. The United States has won 129 medals in wrestling since 1904. Iran won the freestyle World Cup in February 2013. Russia took second place, followed by the United States.
GN: How do the US and Iranian wrestling styles differ?
RB: Neither team has a particular style. The great thing about wrestling is that no technique necessarily works better than another. The athletes use a diverse range of styles and skill sets. There are similarities on both sides of the mat. Some wrestlers tend to be very technical, while others focus on their power.
GN: How often do the teams compete? How do the athletes and coaches get along?
RB: We meet just about every year at the World Championships, sometimes at World Cups and some other competitions. The United States regularly attends Iranˈs annual Takhti Cup. The teams have a mutual respect for each otherˈs skills.
The head coaches of the two teams, Zeke Jones and Gholam-Reza Mohammadi, actually wrestled against each other in the early 1990s. So the rivalry between the two teams has some history.
The current rivalry dates from the finals of the 2012 Olympics. Jordan Burroughs beat Iranˈs Sadeq Goudarzi for the gold medal in the 74 kilo weight class.
One of the most interesting matchups in the upcoming tour will be between 120 kilogram heavyweights Tervel Dlagnev and Komeil Qasemi. Iranˈs Qasemi beat Dlagnev for the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics.
Friendly meets and exchanges provide opportunities for interactions off the mat, including occasional team meals together. But for the most part, athletes from both teams tend to stay in competition mode and focus on the matches.
Iranˈs wrestling team has competed in the United States 10 times:
1995 World Championships in Atlanta, Georgia
1995 World Cup in Chattanooga, Tennessee
1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia
1998 Junior World Championships in Primm, Nevada
1998 World Cup in Stillwater, Oklahoma
1998 Goodwill Games in New York City, New York
1999 World Cup in Spokane, Washington
2000 World Cup in Fairfax, Virginia
2001 World Cup in Baltimore, Maryland
2003 World Championships in New York City, New York
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
(Copyright 2013 Iran Primer; Published with permission)
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