The 2018 World Cup of freestyle wrestling opened Saturday in the U.S. state of Iowa without Russia and Iran, two traditionally strong teams in the sport.
Iran, the six-time defending champ, pulled out in March without citing a reason, although many tied it to the resignation of the Iranian federation president, Rasoul Khadem, over issues related to the country’s state policy of refusing to compete against Israeli competition.
Khadem quit in protest after United World Wrestling (UWW) ruled that an Iranian wrestler threw a match at the Under-23 World Championships in November to avoid having to face an Israeli opponent and temporarily banning the athlete and his coach.
Russia pulled out of the tournament a week ago after saying it did not have enough time for the visa process needed to get the athletes cleared for the journey to Iowa City.
UWW invited Mongolia and India to replace Iran and Russia the annual meet, considered the second-biggest event outside of the World Championships, which will be held in Hungary in October.
“Our team was poised to do well [even if] Russia and Iran [were competing], so that’s a little bit disappointing,” said Rich Bender, the director of USA Wrestling.
“Certainly, in light of the current political situation and the relations between our governments and the drama around what’s going on in our State Departments, with their embassy and ours, this was not the year to wait until the last minute to apply,” he said of the Russians.
Bill Zadick, the U.S. freestyle coach, said, “It’s disappointing that they [Russians and Iranians] weren’t able to make it to the event because they have great wrestling traditions.”
“Despite our difference in politics on the government side, our federations share a brotherhood and have a really positive relationships that I think both sides value,” he added.
The U.S. team beat India in its first match, while Mongolia beat Kazakhstan.
Some material for this report came from AP, Sioux City Journal, Des Moines Register and Interfax.