For years, Iranian women have been active in regional and international sports competitions, but religious laws in Iran prevent women from being seen on television without an Islamic hijab. While Iranian women play sports dressed in the traditional hijab, their international competitors do not -- and therefore cannot be shown in Iranian broadcasts.
For this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing,
however, Iranian authorities might allow state television to broadcast the
women's events. Ali Asghar Purmohammadi, who is responsible for broadcasting
sports programs for Iran's state-run television, has said he is pressing Iranian
authorities to give special permission to show women competing in the Olympic
Games next month.
There are just three women among the 53 Iranian athletes who will compete in the Beijing Olympics from August 8-24, with one woman each competing in rowing, archery, and tae kwon do.
Fatemeh Sepanji, a Tehran-based sports
commentator, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the Iranian media are forced to
pretend that women athletes in Iran do not exist.
"They obey all the rules. They are allowed to take part in sports. So why shouldn't they be shown on television?" she asks. "Obviously they will be shown [on TV] all over the world [when they compete in the Olympics]. What is the point of showing them in one country and hiding them in another?"
The restrictive dress code has prevented Iranian women from participating in many sports, such as swimming, diving, and other water sports, along with gymnastics, running events, and cycling.
Many Iranian sportswomen say they find it
difficult to move in heavy, loose clothes -- especially in hot weather. Besides,
they have to pay close attention to make sure that their hair or the skin on
their arms or legs does not unexpectedly show while they are competing. Such
"mistakes" in the heat of competition can result in a heavy price being paid by
the women athletes.
Ramoneh Lazar, a member of Iran's rowing team, was expelled from the national team after her ankles were seen inside her boat during a competition in Bangkok.
Indeed, the pressure from religious leaders on
the issue is strong. Ayatollah Alam Alhoda is one of many influential clerics
who virulently oppose women's involvement in any sports activity. During a
sermon after recent Friday Prayers in the Mashhad city mosque, the ayatollah
said it is "unlawful" for women to participate in sports.
Another Iranian mullah said that women should not ski because "during skiing they have to move their knees and it looks more like dancing than sport."
Faced with dress restrictions and vociferous
opposition, Iranian women participate in those sports that are compatible with
the dress code, such as archery, rowing, soccer, and other events where the
hijab and loose clothing might be uncomfortable and disadvantageous, but still
allow them to compete.
Tae kwon do and kickboxing are hugely popular among Iranian women, but some mullahs say they are bothered by the fact that at the end of a match the male referees must hold the female competitors' hands in order to raise the hand of the winner.
Male coaches of women's teams also have
difficulties, and their role has often been the subject of debate. When a female
team has a male coach, the team members have to obey the dress code even during
training because of the presence of the male coach or trainer.
And to make their jobs even more difficult, male coaches are required to keep a clear physical distance between themselves and the female athletes they instruct.
RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondent Mahin Gorjideridani contributed to this report
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