Muscle Sport Magazine

Keep Iran Travel Ban on Hadi Choopan

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“It’s a huge shit sandwich and we’re all gonna have to take a bite.” That famous line uttered in the 1987 motion picture “Full Metal Jacket” by John Terry playing Lt. Lockhart rings true in the Hadi Choopan situation. The Iranian bodybuilder will apparently be shut out from competing at the 2019 Olympia due to the 2017 travel ban set by President Donald Trump, which included a number of countries.

Iran would seem to be at the top of that list right now due to the recent aggression in the middle east, with that country seizing numerous civilian vessels traveling through the Straight of Mormuz and the strong threatening language emanating from there following the United States pulling out of the multi-nation nuclear deal.

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Choopan, 31, is caught in the middle. He is from a nation that is enemies with the one he is wishing to ply his trade in. And his recent victory in the open bodybuilding division (Choopan had been a 212 competitor) at the Vancouver Pro has made this a major talking point in the industry, with each and every media outlet/company speaking up for Choopan and yearning for him to obtain a work visa (as he did in Canada) so he can take the stage in Las Vegas next month.

So, of course, we are going to do the exact opposite and say that rules are rules and this is one that should not be bent for anyone.

SAFETY TRUMPS SANDOW

The controversial travel ban has been in effect since January 27, 2017 when President Trump signed Executive Order 13769 and many people conveniently forget that incidents such as the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, ISIS-influenced home grown attacks and the flow of refugees from foreign nations where any background checks or even positive identification of these people were daunting at best. Something drastic needed to be done and with his “America first” agenda, the president put this ban in effect to protect the citizens of the USA.

A number of court decisions and revised executive orders took place, but the US Supreme Court upheld the latest version in June of last year.

As far as Iran is concerned, the US State Department has considered them as “state sponsors of terrorism” and their failure to cooperate with US officials… and that was before the seizure of the fuel vessels.

Relations between Iran and the US have been strained for five decades and counting and steeply declining the last few weeks. Choopan’s timing could not be any worse.

With less than six weeks to go, it appears that the promoters of the Olympia will have to go on without Choopan. The travel ban should not allow any exceptions, even though that is the unpopular decision. We’re not trying to imply that Choopan would do any harm while in the US, but rather saying it would set a bad precedent and open the doors for others who may have bad intentions.

SIMILARITIES WITH ENES KANTER

Another professional athlete has been dealing with a travel ban of sorts, if you will, due to his home country cancelling his passport and placing an arrest warrant on him. 10-year NBA veteran center Enes Kanter spoke out publicly against the Turkish government in 2016 and his family  – although stating that they disowned him for his statements – were effected with his father losing a prestigious position at a university.

Kanter has stayed behind on two occasions in 2019 instead of accompanying his team due to the chances of him being held by international authorities – as a member of the New York Knicks when they played a game in London and then a few months later when his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, went up to Toronto to play the eventual champions, the Raptors.

Now a member of the Boston Celtics, it appears that Kanter will be missing more games since the Raptors are in the same division. (So were the Knicks, but Kanter did not have the same opinion on his situation until prior to the regular season contest in England.)

So here you have someone who has played for the Turkish National Team and yet has something stopping him from leaving the US related to his nation of origin. Is it fair? Depending on where you stand, yes and no. A professional athlete is unable to travel to a country where he is supposed to be to do his job; different circumstances but the same result.

LACK OF OLYMPIA BUZZ

Choopan is not only a rising star in bodybuilding, he would also put a little more ‘juice’ in a show that is shaping up to be the least-anticipated Olympia contests since 1968. Sergio Oliva was alone on stage at that show after two other competitors withdrew (Harold Poole and Dave Draper) and another who became eligible earlier that day by winning the Mr. World title – Chuck Sipes – decided against facing the reigning champion.

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That will not happen this year since Shawn Rhoden was declared ineligible to defend his title after rape charges were filed against him in Utah stemming from an October 2018 incident. And the man he defeated last year – Phil Heath, who won seven consecutive Olympias – has still not stated if he will compete or not. Although he has the same amount of titles as the beloved Arnold Schwarzenegger, Heath was the unofficial ‘most hated Mr. Olympia’ due to his cockiness and social media persona. He did not do himself any favors by speaking out against the Olympia promoters and judges in subsequent interviews following the loss.

Kai Greene is the fan favorite, but he, too, has not made any official statements if he is even interested in competing. Since he has not qualified, Greene would have to receive a special invitation, something that has occurred in the past and he has declined with nary a statement nor an appearance at bodybuilding’s marquee event. Greene has not competed at the Olympia since 2014 after three consecutive runners-up finishes. He has not taken the stage since winning three Arnold Classic shows (US, Australia, Brazil) in 2016 and at 44 years of age, his active days appear over, even though “The Predator” has never made any official announcement.

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The 2019 Olympia will be lacking the defending champion who has not retired, as well as  Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay (who placed second in 2017 but fell to sixth a year ago), who is out with an injury. So it is very possible and likely that there will be no Rhoden, Heath, Greene and Elssbiay to promote the show and they will have to be replaced by the likes of Roelly Winklaar, Brandon Curry, William Bonac and Dexter Jackson. Nathan De Asha, who has also been a rising star, pled guilty to illegal steroids distribution in England and his situation is in doubt.

Our best guess is that Winklaar will win with the Swiss Cheese-like lineup. The IFBB Professional League has taken some public relations hits with the Rhoden accusations and needs to get this one right, as far as marketing goes. Winklaar won the inaugural People’s Champion Award at the Olympia last year and placed third behind Rhoden and Heath. He is a fan favorite and posses a massive freaky physique that is preferred by the masses.

So even if Choopan is given a temporary work visa, he probably would not have taken the open and having him win the 212 in the absence of James “Flex” Lewis (who is taking this year off to put on size to move up to the open after dominating the 212) is not going to make headlines.

Sure, it would be a boost to have Choopan on board, but it’s not a game-changer and should not be allowed.

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