Adel Borghei has worked as a tennis referee in more than a dozen countries. The 32-year-old Iranian thought the U.S. Open would be his next international tournament.
Borghei says the United States Tennis Association (USTA) sent him confirmation in May that he had been accepted to work at the U.S. Open, which takes place every year in New York City over two weeks in August and September.
Borghei made the necessary arrangements, including obtaining a U.S. visa. But a few days before the qualifying rounds began, he was informed by the USTA that his services could not be used.
"I was working in another international competition in Canada when I was told that because of political problems, I couldn't participate in the Open, because of current United States laws," Borghei tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
"They apologized and expressed hope that we could work together in the future and that I could referee in the Open."
"The New York Times" reported
that an e-mail from the USTA to Borghei cited "current United States law" that prohibits the U.S. Open from "retaining the services of a resident of Iran."
The Wrong Visa
The visa Borghei received was apparently just a basic visitor's visa and does not allow him to work at the tournament, which begins on August 26.
"The U.S. has its own immigration system with its own, obviously, different types of visa categories for different types of activities," says Farhad Alavi, a partner at Akrivis Law Group in Washington and one of the lawyers assisting Borghei. "However, some of those categories are not applicable to Iranians for employment purposes because of the sanctions laws."
A U.S. Treasury Department spokesman told the newspaper that there were special visas available to certain types of Iranian nationals who wished to work in the United States. The official said Borghei would qualify.
But obtaining that special visa requires filing a different application than the one Borghei sent in, and additional bureaucratic "red tape," according to "The New York Times," which quoted two people with knowledge of visa exceptions under the sanctions law.
Borghei, who is currently staying with a friend in Florida, believes a "strict interpretation" of the laws is preventing him from working at the Open. "If there was a problem, why did they issue a visa for me?" he asks.
"I think these issues [should] not exist in countries that make sports exchanges. U.S. athletes who travel to Iran don't face any problems," he adds.
'Unforeseen Effect' Of Sanctions
Despite tension between Washington and Tehran, American and Iranian athletes do participate in sporting events in each other's countries. In May, Iranian and American wrestlers held a friendly competition in New York.
Lawyer Alavi says the case highlights how international sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear program sometimes have a deeply personal impact.
"Initially there was a lot of talk of targeted sanctions, for example, but this, I think, highlights the difficulties that are encountered even in pursuance of the U.S. de facto policy of promoting people-to-people exchanges," Alavi says. "These types of limitations were probably not foreseen to have this type of effect, but they're having this type of effect."
Borghei says sports and politics shouldn't be mixed. He still hopes that the "wrong decision" will be reversed and he will be able to work at the U.S. Open before it ends on September 9.
The case comes amid growing criticism of the impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iranians.
On August 21, some 500 Iranian political activists, human rights defenders, and academics inside and outside the country called on U.S. President Barack Obama to "work towards the elimination of sanctions and the lowering of tensions between Iran and the United States."
The call followed a letter by 50 prominent Iranian political prisoners that described sanctions as "a collective punishment imposed on the Iranian people as a whole," not just the government.
RFE/RL's Radio Farda broadcaster Alireza Kermani interviewed Adel Borghei