TEHRAN // A group of Amerian athletes are in Iran for an international wrestling competition this week, in a sporting encounter coinciding with speculation of a possible thaw in relations between the two old foes. Six wrestlers will take part in the two-day Takhti tournament starting in Tehran's Azadi sports complex today. "This is an outstanding competition and the wrestling fans in Iran are simply the best in the world," their spokesman Mitch Hull said.
"If we were to win and we have a great match they will cheer for our team as well." The US cut off diplomatic ties with Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, in which Iranian students held 52 Americans hostage at the US embassy for 444 days. Even though Tehran and Washington have been bitter foes since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, they have at times put aside their differences in the arena of sports.
Wrestling is one of Iran's most popular sports, with competitions drawing big crowds of fans. Athletes from Turkey, Iraq, Ukraine, Cuba and Turkmenistan will also take part in the event, Iranian media reported yesterday. Hull said he was in Tehran in January 2007 when about 20 American athletes and their coaches came to Iran to compete. "We are very comfortable here, the people have been so friendly," he said.
"I hope we have guys that can win but this is a very tough tournament." The new US administration of President Barack Obama has offered to engage Iran in direct talks if the Republic "unclenches its fist". Last week Washington said it would invite Iran to take part in a meeting on Afghanistan this month Hull suggested sports could play a wider role. "To call it simply sports I think down plays what sport can do for international relations," he added.