One of the country’s top wrestling venues is set to host up to eight of the sport’s best teams when the Freestyle World Cup comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, this month. “It’s a very unique opportunity to see the best wrestlers on the planet participate in an event that means a lot for their countries,” said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling’s executive director. “Carver-Hawkeye is a very unique setting to see which team has the best program in the world from top to bottom.”
The home of University of Iowa wrestling will showcase the top freestyle squads from last year’s United World Wrestling world championships: the United States, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Japan, Cuba, Kazakhstan and Iran. Russia had also been invited to participate, but complications with the visa process kept the team home at the last minute. USA Wrestling has invited two major freestyle programs, Mongolia and India, to replace the Russian team.
Since the December 2016 announcement that Iowa City would host, the local organizing committee and USA Wrestling, which created the event in 1973, have been hard at work. The organizing committee includes the Iowa City/Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau, University of Iowa Athletics and city leaders from Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty. “This event will give our city and region incredible exposure,” said Michael Rooney, the CVB’s manager of sports development. “We built an incredible relationship recently with USA Wrestling with success in 2012 and 2016 hosting the Olympic trials—we broke the attendance record with sellouts. With this World Cup opportunity, we can expand our reach even further on the international level.”
Carver-Hawkeye makes a perfect host site thanks to the school’s prominent wrestling history. The school boasts 23 NCAA titles and fans flock to the arena, with Iowa leading the nation in average dual-meet attendance for the past 11 seasons (2007–2017). “We believe there’s a really strong foundational support system for wrestling in and around the University of Iowa,” Bender said. “There will be a lot of wrestling fans from around the United States coming to this event. We’re expecting a sellout—13,000—each day.”
A major concern about hosting this event in the United States was the effect of the Trump administration’s international travel restrictions, which have placed limits on visitation from countries including Iran. Last year the Iranian government banned and later unbanned the United States from attending the World Cup in Kermanshah. “There are some specific visa challenges and a certain sequence that we have to follow to secure the necessary visas for athletes,” Bender said. “Certainly, we have assurances from the United States Olympic Committee and the White House that special consideration will be made for athletes. We’re going to work hard to make sure athletes have the opportunity to get here.”
Despite those assurances, the Russian team was not able to secure the necessary visas in the days leading up to the event, which Iowa Senator Charles Grassley told USA Wrestling was a product of reduced staffing at the U.S. Mission in Russia and the inability to process visas on expedited appointments that the Russian team was seeking.
In a statement, Bender, said the situation was “extremely unfortunate.” “With the reality of this situation, USA Wrestling is pleased that the wrestling federations of Mongolia and India have responded to support the World Cup and are making plans to be here for the event,” Bender said. “We will have an outstanding competition showcasing international wrestling in Iowa City, and we are excited to host those nations that will be attending.”
The event format consists of two four-team pools selected by random draw. The Pool A winner will wrestle the Pool B winner for the championship. Team rosters grew from eight to 10 wrestlers when the UWW added two weight classes in January. All-session tickets went on sale in November, with ticket prices ranging from $50 (for fans 18 and younger) to $225 for elite packages.
Tim Foley, UWW’s senior manager of media operations, said event coverage will appear on Track Wrestling (trackwrestling.com), a paid service, as well as on the Olympic Channel and possibly NBCSN.
This will be the 30th time the United States has hosted the event, the most of any nation. Next year’s UWW Freestyle World Cup will be held in Kaspiysk, Russia.