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Australia Denies Visas For Iranian Gymnasts, Fearing Asylum Requests

Abodllah Jamei Iranian gymnastics champion. FILE PHOTO

President of Iran's Gymnastic Federation, Zahra Dargahi Incheh, has accused Australia of "politicizing" the process of issuing visas for three Iranian athletes.

"Three months ago, we requested visas for three of our gymnasts to compete in the 2020 World Cup Gymnastics Melbourne, but Canberra's embassy in Tehran has refused to do so," Ms. Inccheh Dargahi lamented on Sunday, February 2.

Responding to the federation's inquiry, the Australian embassy in Tehran has pointed to the Islamic Republic's "economic situation" and the possibility of Iranian gymnasts seeking asylum in Melbourne, Ms. Dargahi Incheh disclosed to Iran's official news agency, IRNA.

Melbourne will host a stop on the Individual Apparatus World Cup circuit for the entirety of the 2020 Olympic cycle for both Men's and Women's Artistic Gymnastics. The competition features athletes from countries all over the world competing across two days of qualifications on February 20 and 21, with the top eight athletes on each apparatus advancing to the finals, to be held on 22 and 23 February.

Three Iranian gymnasts, Abdollah Jamei, Saeed Reza Keekha, and Mehdi Ahmad Kohani, had prepared themselves to leave Tehran for the Melbourne World Cup on February 12, hoping to win a share in the 2020 Summer Olympics (July 24, 2020-August 9) in Tokyo, Japan.

In recent months, the defection of Iranian athletes seeking asylum has gained momentum. Many of them are set to compete under other countries' flags in world tournaments.

Iran's only female Olympic medalist Kimia Alizadeh, chess grandmaster Alireza Firouzja, judo's world champion and Gold medalist Saeid Mollaei, and a member of Iran's Junior wrestling national side, Navid Zangeneh, are among the country's prominent athletes who have recently sought asylum abroad.