The applause began as Team USA walked into the crowded stadium here at the Freestyle World Cup Wrestling championships in Kermanshah, Iran. The Iranians in the crowd whooped, cheered, and began chanting the name of Jordan Burroughs, the best known athlete here.
What made this warm welcome even more extraordinary was that a week before it had looked extremely unlikely that the Americans would even be allowed to compete in the games.
When President Trump issued a visa ban for citizens of 7 majority Muslim countries, including Iran on Jan. 27, the authorities in the Islamic Republic vowed reciprocation. With just weeks to go before the championships began, Team USA prepared for the possibility that they would be unable to attend. “We called in all of the athletes and told them that it was unlikely we would be able to go to Iran,” Rich Bender the executive director of USA Wrestling, tells TIME. “They were all disappointed.”
But that all changed drastically when the courts struck down Trump’s visa ban, much to the dismay of the White House. The authorities in Iran, who have long encouraged citizen diplomacy with the U.S., quickly overturned a decision to not grant visas to Team USA. “In respect to the requests by American athletes and people we decided to issue visas for the US team,” said Masoud Soltanifar, Iran’s Sports and Youth Minister.