By Duncan Mackay

Wrestling protest in TehranFebruary 21 - Some of the world's top wrestlers have staged a protest against the decision to remove the sport from the core programme of Olympic sports after Rio 2016, bringing together competitors from Iran, Russia and the United States.

The protest, staged at the World Cup in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling in Tehran, saw wrestlers from 14 countries unite on the mats and hold each other's hands in a sign of solidarity and brotherhood.

To support the action, Iran's Wrestling Federation had prepared banners in both English and Farsi with the slogan "Olympics Without Wrestling? Never, never..." 

Wrestling is Iran's biggest and most popular sport, with several million registered participants, and is their most successful Olympic sport.

Of the 15 gold medals Iran has won in the Olympics since they made their debut at Paris in 1900, eight have come in wrestling, including three at London 2012. 

The protest in Tehran once again highlighted how the decision to drop wrestling has brought together countries who are not normally naturual allies.

"Sports and particularly wrestling, has always been a great ambassador that has brought many nations together, including Iran and the United States," said Zeke Jones, America's freestyle wrestling coach.

"Wrestling has created a close relationship between the American and Iranian people.

"You'll have absolutely zero problem with the countries being unified on saving wrestling.

"The countries will do anything in working together to keep Olympic wrestling in the programe."

Hojatollah Khatib, the President of Iran's Wrestling Federation, promised that the protest was just the beginning of the campaign to keep the sport on the Olympic programme after Rio 2016.

"We should resist the decision, determinedly," he said. 

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