Games people shouldn’t play

That was the title of a January 1980 George Will column arguing that the U.S. should not participate in the 1980 Olympics, which were to be held in the Soviet Union. President Carter agreed. He said that if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan, the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics.

They didn’t; we did.

I thought of Will’s column when I learned that, in retaliation for President Trump’s executive order on travel, Iran barred U.S. wrestlers from competing in a major tournament in Tehran. The Washington Post noted that American wrestlers have competed 15 times in Iran since 1998. That’s almost one visit per year.

After a court blocked Trump’s order, Iran lifted the ban on our wrestlers. The sixteenth visit now is on.

I know that wrestling is a very big deal in Iran and that major tournaments are often held there. I also know that at some point around 1998 there was what passed for a minor thaw in U.S-Iranian relations.

But in recent years, until the Iran nuclear deal, Iran was subject to very tough sanctions. Some U.S. sanctions persist.

So why has the U.S. been sending wrestlers to Iran?

The case for not sending them seems as strong as the case for the much more draconian boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Yes, Russia invaded Afghanistan. But Iran engaged militarily in Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq, Iranian military activity killed hundreds of Americans and injured many more. In Syria, the Iranian regime shares responsibility for killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. And in the aforementioned Afghanistan, Iran paid Taliban fighters for every American they killed, according to this report by the former commander of British forces in that country.

In Tehran, where our wrestlers frequently compete, the regime’s mobs chant “Death to America.” I don’t recall reading that anyone said this Moscow during the 1970s.

What, then, is the case for sending our wrestlers to Iran? Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, claims that “in the past, wrestling has played an important role in diplomacy.”

Bender is hardly a disinterested observer, but let’s take his assertion at face value. If you believe that our diplomacy with Iran has advanced American interests, then maybe we should keep sending wrestlers to the Islamic Republic. If you believe it has advanced Iran’s interests at the expense of ours, then we shouldn’t.

President Trump says the Iran nuclear agreement is one of the worst deals the U.S. has ever made. He should follow Jimmy Carter’s example and move to stop U.S. participation in sporting and cultural events held in Iran. We should not play in its games.


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