Iran to boycott wrestling and fencing tournaments

Updated: May 24, 2004, 6:10 PM ET
Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran will boycott wrestling and fencing tournaments in Atlanta and New York next month to protest American forces' actions in Shiite holy cities in Iraq, dealing a setback to the sports diplomacy between the two nations.

The announcements Monday came one day after Iran's Foreign Ministry said Tehran sent a "warning" message to the United States through the Swiss Embassy concerning Washington's actions in Iraq. A ministry spokesman would not elaborate.

Iranian wrestlers will not participate in the Titan Games, a pre-Olympics competition being held in Atlanta starting June 18, the head of Iran's Wrestling Federation said Monday.

Iraq plans to send a boxer and two wrestlers to the Titan Games. Event spokesman Matt Garvey said Iraq's involvement will be announced during a conference call Tuesday.

The boxer, light flyweight Najah Ali, already has qualified for this year's Olympics. He is scheduled to travel with the U.S. boxing team to Michigan early next month for training, according to Garvey.

Ali and wrestlers Ahmed Jasim and Ahamad Weali are currently working out in Houston.

Mohammad Reza Taleqani told The Associated Press that Iran's decision was made "because of the current situation in the holy cities in Iraq."

However, Iran may reconsider if U.S.-led coalition forces withdraw from holy cities in Iraq, he said.

Gary Abbott, the director of the U.S. Wrestling Special Projects, said Sunday he was unaware of an Iranian pullout from the Titan Games. But a U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman said Sunday an Iranian pullout would deal a "huge blow" to the Titan Games.

The tournament features boxing, fencing, judo, karate, shot put, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling.

The Iranian Fencing Federation also will boycott the June 10-13 New York Grand Prix, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

There have been almost daily street protests in Iran since Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque, one of the most important shrines in Shiite Islam, was damaged May 14 in fighting between coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents. The U.S. military said insurgents probably caused the damage, but Iranian officials hold the United States responsible.

Before dawn Monday, three mortar rounds landed about 300 yards from the Imam Ali shrine during fighting.

On Sunday, U.S. and Iraqi security forces raided a mosque in nearby Kufa, where they said insurgents stored weapons.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah, and the subsequent takeover of the U.S. Embassy by Iranian militant students, who seized dozens of American hostages.

The two countries periodically take small steps toward repairing their relationship through cultural and sports exchanges.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press