Iran wrestling chief says ‘Death to America’ in interview for match with US next month
The president of Iran’s wrestling federation said "Death to America" in a television interview aired Wednesday, a month before his team is due to fight US wrestlers on their home turf.
Wrestling chief Alireza Dabir, a former Olympic wrestling champion, said that his wrestlers must go beyond that the rhetoric of the chant, made popular during street protests that led to Iran's 1979 revolution, and beat American wrestlers in the ring.
"We always chant 'Death to America' but most importantly is showing it in action... Some talk a lot but don't do much. We need to prove it with an action," Dabir said.
The friendly match between the Iranian and US national teams is set to take place in Arlington, Texas on 12 February.
Sardar Pashaei, the former head of Iran's national Greco-Roman wrestling team, asked why the US would allow Dabir into the country for the match.
Pashaei, who holds dual Iranian and American citizenship, told media: "It's painful for me as a wrestler and a national team coach to listen to these words.
Pashaei oversees the "United for Navid" campaign which seeks justice for Navid Afkari, a champion wrestler who was executed in September 2020 for murder, a crime his supporters strongly deny he carried out.
In his capacity as the campaign's head, Pashaei questioned why the match had been organised in the first place.
"We, the members of the United for Navid campaign, express our deep concern over the entry of people close to the government, and we also remind the American Wrestling Federation that holding a friendly match between Iran and the United States will only serve the Iranian government's propaganda," Pashaei said.
Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist and former detainee at Evin Prison, told media: "It's a shame that the US gives residency to people like the president of Iran's Wrestling Federation."
US President Joe Biden has taken a somewhat softer approach to relations with Iran than predecessor Donald Trump, who imposed heavy economic sanctions on Tehran and withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Some opponents of Iran's rulers have criticised the Biden administration for being too lenient.