After 'Death to America' chant, Iranian athletes want to cancel wrestling match

An organization of world-class Iranian athletes is urging USA Wrestling to cancel a February match with Iran's squad after "Death to America" chants.

A portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a demonstration on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, Sept. 13, 2020.  (photo credit: EVERT ELZINGA/ANP/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
A portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a demonstration on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, Sept. 13, 2020.
(photo credit: EVERT ELZINGA/ANP/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

An organization of Olympic and world-class Iranian athletes urged USA Wrestling to pull the plug on its slated February wrestling dual meet with the Islamic Republic's squad after Tehran's wrestling federation called for the violent death of America. 

The move, made on Sunday, also follows Iran's ban on female wrestling. One of the members of the organization is including the former head coach of Iran’s Greco-Roman wrestling team. 

The Jerusalem Post obtained a copy of the letter sent by the Iranian athletic and human rights organization United for Navid to the executive director of USA Wrestling, Rich Bender.

“USA Wrestling is inviting an organization [Iran’s Wrestling Federation] whose leadership rejoices in chanting ‘Death to America’ in front of TV cameras and encourages others to do the same, if not more," wrote the former head of Iran's Greco-Roman wrestling team, Sardar Pashaei and manager of the Iranian athletic NGO United for Navid.

Pashaei, who won a world championship as a Greco-Roman wrestler for Iran and has since obtained US citizenship, wrote: “On behalf of thousands of Iranian athletes we urge you to refrain from inviting Iranian government-sponsored athletes as long as the government tortures and executes athletes, deprives women of participation in competitions, and chants “Death to America” in their media. Refrain from inviting officials and athletes who are  government propaganda tools that are anti-women and anti-American.”

HOUTHI SUPPORTERS rally to denounce the US killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi alMuhandis, in Sana’a, Yemen, on January 6. The placards read, ‘God is the greatest, death to America, death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, victory to Islam.’ (credit: KHALED ABDULLAH/ REUTERS)HOUTHI SUPPORTERS rally to denounce the US killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi alMuhandis, in Sana’a, Yemen, on January 6. The placards read, ‘God is the greatest, death to America, death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, victory to Islam.’ (credit: KHALED ABDULLAH/ REUTERS)

The Post reported last week that the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s wrestling federation, Alireza Dabir, declared “Death to America” in a television interview prior to the wrestling dual meet between the national teams of the US and Iran to be held in Texas.

"We always chant ‘Death to America’ but importantly is showing it in action,” said Dabir, who won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling for Iran at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. Dabir added: “A doctor, he might even be wearing a tie, but he is doing his job well. He is saying ‘Death to America.’ Some talk a lot but don’t do much. We need to prove it with an action that [Death to America].” 

Multiple press queries to Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling and to its communication director Gary Abbott were not immediately returned.

The campaign United for Navid seeks justice for the late champion Iranian Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari. The Islamic Republic of Iran hanged Afkari in September 2020 for his role in a protest against the Iranian regime’s political and economic corruption. Bender declined to comment in 2020 on the clerical regime’s execution of Afkari.

Rob Koehler, the director-general of sports human rights organization Global Athlete, told the Post: “Over the past year, the International Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling have received documented proof of athlete abuse in Iran including murder, torture, beatings, discrimination, arrests and denied access to competition, yet they have failed to act against Iran. The IOC and United World Wrestling’s failure to protect athlete safety and welfare can no longer be tolerated by the international community. This lack of action is clearly meant to appease the Iranian authorities rather than ensure athlete safety.”

The Post contacted all twelve sponsors of the slated dual meet between the Iranian and American wrestling teams that will take place on February 12 in Texas. The sponsors listed on USA Wrestling’s website range from the US Marines to major sports companies such as Nike, OPRO,  Hyperice, RXSG, Dollamur and Tanita.

United for Navid wrote in its letter to Bender: “It is against the interests and the security of the American people for anyone to set foot on American soil who promotes the slogan of Death to America. The invitation of USA Wrestling to the officials and athletes who are against the American people is against U.S. national security.  Although USA Wrestling has the best intentions, it is most important to note that these matches will be used as propaganda tools by the Iranian government and will not contribute to promoting peace and friendship.”

The letter continued that USA Wrestling’s invitation to the Iranian Wrestling Federation “actually contravenes your own bylaws and regulations. The Iranian officials do not respect human rights. The Iranian government has barred millions of Iranian women from competing in wrestling for years and blocked their aspirations to compete in international competitions. Iranian wrestlers are banned from facing Israeli counterparts. The wrestler Navid Afkari was not only tortured and executed but his two brothers are also in prison today, all for the crime of taking part in a peaceful protest.”

A number of Iranian regime-controlled media outlets were abuzz with articles about whether the US would permit Dabir to enter America after his violent call for the elimination of the United States. "According to rumors, the US embassy may not issue a visa to the president of the Wrestling Federation," wrote Tabnak, a news outlet affiliated with former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) chief commander Mohsen Rezaei. The US government classified the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Post sent a press query to the US State Department.

Agents from the Islamic Republic sought to kidnap the founder of United for Navid, Masih Alinejad, according to media reports in July. US prosecutors said for Iranian intelligence officials were charged with seeking to abduct Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist based in New York City.

The Iranian-Norwegian journalist, Mina Bai, tweeted on January 8 that Alinejad was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for 2022. “ The “High profile progressive party's member in Norway Erlend Wiborg nominates Iranian compulsory Hijab critic @AlinejadMasih to Nobel peace prize for 2022 for her work for respect to human dignity & freedom.”

United for Navid’s website shows videos of prominent Iranian athletes urging a boycott of the Iranian athletes and officials because of reported human rights violations in Iran and gender bias against women athletes.