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Iran Holds First International Marathon, Largely Without Americans

  • RFE/RL

Runners in Iran's first international marathon pass Azadi Square in Tehran.

Iran's first international marathon has been held in Tehran, but American runners were largely absent from the race in what appears to be payback for the White House's proposal to temporarily bar Iranian travelers from the United States.

The head of Iran's Track and Field Federation, Majid Keyhani, said there was no ban on any nationality in what he called the "Persian Run." But Americans who sought to compete in the April 7 race said they were unable to obtain visas from the Iranian government.

The course took male runners from the Azadi sports complex through the Azadi Square in western Tehran. Women ran separately, inside the Azadi sports complex.

The race's website listed 28 Americans among the registered runners, along with participants from more than 40 countries, including Britain, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

But Iran stopped issuing visas to U.S. citizens after U.S. President Donald Trump first announced a temporary travel ban on Iranians and citizens of six other Muslim-majority countries in January. Tehran later allowed American wrestlers to travel to Iran to participate in a world championship.

American marathon enthusiast Charlie Barkowski, 35, who is based in Greece, said he signed up for the race in January. He had traveled to Iran a few years back and was looking forward to returning to complete his 52nd marathon.

But his visa never came through.

"I submitted everything and just waited.... I even had my bags packed," he told The Associated Press.

Iran did not provide an explanation for not giving him with a visa, but Barkowski told the Washington Post, "It could've been the executive order," referring to Trump's temporary ban, which has been blocked from taking effect by the U.S. courts.

Mohammad Jafar Moradi, 27, an Iranian long-distance runner who competed in the marathon in the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics, won the race on April 7.

Keyhani said at least 160 foreign runners signed up for the race, including 50 women. About 600 Iranian runners signed up, including 156 women, he said.

Women running in the race were required to wear a head scarf or sports bandanna that covers their hair, according to the race website. It also encouraged them to wear long-sleeve t-shirts and avoid shorts or skirts.

At least one Iranian-American took part in the race.

"I'm very, very excited. This has been a dream for me," Amir Arasta, a chiropractor from Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press.

With reporting by AP and Washington Post
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