IOWA CITY — Thousands of people from around the world, both athletes and spectators, will converge next week on Iowa City.
However, in a notable absence, Russian wrestlers may not be among them.
While the city and USA Wrestling prepare to host the wrestling World Cup, the Russian Foreign Ministry claims the United States is refusing to schedule visa interviews for its athletes to attend.
The United World Wrestling Senior Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup traditionally is an eight-team tournament, and is scheduled for April 7 and 8 at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
But this week’s Cold War-style tension among Russia and the United States is exacerbating a dispute over travel visas that began weeks ago.
Josh Schamberger, the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said he and USA Wrestling have been working to persuade the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to make 14 interview appointments available for the Russia athletes and coaches.
“I think the crux of the situation here and the root of the problem is twofold. First off, there are some obviously much larger political happenings going on with embassies and the Trump administration and Russia at the moment,” Schamberger said. “The root of the problem here in my opinion is that the Russian Wrestling Federation has waited until inside of 14 days to try and get these visa appointments scheduled at the embassy.”
The Russia Foreign Ministry called the visa dispute “direct and open discrimination,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday. But the ministry did not say why it put off starting the visa process for an event that has long been planned.
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On Monday, the Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats from the United States and closed a diplomatic facility on the West Coast in response to a nerve agent attack on former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter this month in Britain.
Then Thursday, Russia responded by expelling 60 American diplomats and closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, according to the Washington Post.
A news release Wednesday night from USA Wrestling said the organization had not received any official word that the Russian wrestlers were not coming.
“As the hosts of the event, USA Wrestling still has an expectation and hope that Russia will participate,” it said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office sent a letter to the State Department in Moscow asking that the “request for expedited interview appointment for the visa applicants be given all due consideration,” said Michael Zona, a spokesman for the Iowa senator, in an email. He said Grassley was not given a reason why the interviews weren’t scheduled, and is awaiting a response.
Gary Abbott, director of communications for USA Wrestling, said he also hadn’t heard a reason and was unsure his organization would hear from the embassy.
“We’re dealing with the situation as it occurs,” he said, adding that Russia competed in the last three World Cups the United States hosted, all in Los Angeles.
It was announced earlier that Iran won’t send a team to Iowa City, though the situation is different. Schamberger said the matter is more related to disagreements between the Iran and world wrestling governing bodies.
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Because of the uncertainty surrounding Russia, as well as Iran not sending its team, USA Wrestling has invited the men’s freestyle teams of India and Mongolia.
Schamberger said he expects 8,000 to 10,000 people to attend the competition. He said last time he checked, almost 6,000 tickets had been sold.
Cuba, Japan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are also scheduled to compete along with USA Wrestling.
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