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May 17, 2013

Iranian Wrestlers Abruptly Leave US Early

by VOA News

The U.S. State Department has denied Iranian media reports that the United States deported the Iranian wrestling team ahead of a Sunday meet in Los Angeles.

A State Department official tells VOA's Persian News Network that U.S. authorities had nothing to do with their departure.

The wrestlers abruptly returned home after beating the American team in an exhibition Wednesday at Grand Central Station in New York City.

None of the 18 Iranian wrestlers was allowed to speak to VOA on the record. Sources say political pressure at home and fears that their appearance in Los Angeles could spark anti-Iranian protests, however, were reasons for their early departure

Watch related video of Iranian wrstlers departing at airport:

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This was the first U.S. appearance by the Iranian wresting team in 10 years. The exhibitions were aimed at drawing attention to the ancient sport after the International Olympic Committee decided to drop wrestling from the Summer Games in 2020.

USA Wrestling said it was grateful to the Iranian Wrestling Federation for its participation in an "outstanding competition" in New York. USA Wrestling said the Iranians have assured it that they remain committed to keeping the sport in the Olympics.

In the absence of the Iranians, USA Wrestling announced it will bring Russian and Canadian Olympians to face the Americans in Los Angeles on Sunday.