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Women's sports in Iran after the Revolution

Source: Radio Zamaneh

Tonia Valioghli is a veteran Iranian swimmer, record holder and former member of Iran's National Team and is currently a competitive swimming coach in Germany. She is a physical education graduate from Iran and a sports commentator. Zamaneh Media spoke to her about the situation of women's sports in Iran before and after the Revolution and the recent controversy emerging in the sidelines of the Women's World Chess Championship set to be held in Tehran in February 2017.

Monireh Ghazi interviewsTonia Valioghli, a veteran Iranian swimming champion

Ghazi: Ms. Valioghli since you were a member of the National Swim Team before the establishment of the Islamic Republic and were also active for some years as a sports coach and activist under the Islamic Republic, could you give us a comparative image of the situation of women athletes in these two eras?

Valioghli: Iranian society was very different from other Islamic countries before the Revolution. We had government support for women athletes but families and social mores still restricted women from becoming fully active in the sports arena; especially when the coach was male.

Accordingly, it was very difficult to form two women's basketball or volleyball teams in a small town in order to have sustained practice and competitions. However, individual sports disciplines such as swimming, gymnastics and table tennis were less affected by this problem. There were facilities and coaches for theses disciplines and you could, as a woman, access the opportunity to practice and grow in these disciplines.

Tonia Valioghli when she made the national team in Iran.

We must remember that modern sports disciplines do not have a long history and stretch back about 100 years. European women do not have a long history in these modern disciplines either. Presence of Iranian men in the international sports scene is due to Iran's history in traditional sports of wrestling and weightlifting. Despite all this, in 1979, we had a national women's volleyball team; we had women sprinters, etc.

After the Revolution, women's sports became a victim of gender segregation. From the first days of the Islamic government, women were banned from entering stadiums even though there were no official laws dictating such banning.

The restrictions on swimming for women were even more pronounced because of the nature of swimwear. We immediately felt the reverberations in the physical education faculties. Immediately, I banded together with another swimming athlete and two university faculty members to make sure women could get exclusive use of public pools for some hours of the day. Due to our persistence, in 1980 the only national sports championships held that year was those of swimming.

Women's sports however was penalized after the 1979 Revolution both in the universities and in the national arena. Three years later women's sports began to reshape itself with the formation of Sports Committee of Sisters.

For the past fifteen years, national sports federations have a small women's section. Women are allotted a small portion of the facilities and funds afforded to male athletes. For instance in all of Tehran only one pool is assigned to women. Other sports facilities might be open to use for women only for a few hours each week. The fact that I and many other sports coaches and activists have left the country speak to the reality that the national sports scene is unwelcoming to women's sports.

Ghazi: What is your opinion about the fact that two chess players have declined to participate in the Chess Championship in Tehran?

Valioghli: I believe what Ms. Paikidze has done is very appropriate because it is a statement of solidarity with women of Iran. This action could promote the women's movement against compulsory hijab (Islamic dress code for women) inside Iran. I wish other prominent women in other fields would also take similar actions.

Some are equating this action with sanctions and are trying to divert the dialogue. In such competitions, invitation is extended to top figures and in some cases for various reasons, (in this case compulsory hijab), an individual may decline the invitation. It can only be referred to as a boycott when a large group boycotts it and calls on others to do so. If such an action spreads, Iran may lose its status as host.

The championship will not be cancelled, it will only be transferred to another host. Then Islamic Republic's persistence on having women of other nationalities and faiths cover their hair will be questioned.

Perhaps only the spectators will be deprived of seeing the championships. However, the question is will Iranian women have equal opportunity as Iranian men to watch the games in Iran. Those who are truly concerned about women's sports should be called on to fight for opening of sports stadiums onto women spectators rather than trying to shame a single participant who in protest to compulsory hijab is declining to participate in the championships in Iran.

Related Articles:

Chess Grandmaster Khademalsharieh says World Championship is necessary for Iranian women - After many of the highest-ranking female players have called for a boycott of the next year's world Chess Championships in Iran, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh said that the championship will help the Iranian women to participate in the most important event in the country for the first time. Khademalsharieh, 19, is an Iranian chess player who holds the titles of International Master (IM) and Woman Grandmaster (WGM).

Who benefits from a chess championship boycott? Not Iranian women - The American chess champion Nazi Paikidze has announced that she will boycott next year's women's world chess championship hosted by Iran, in protest at the Islamic Republic's mandatory hijab rule for women. Instead of withdrawing because of Iran's jihab rule, Nazi Paikidze should come and see how our society really works - and how women fight oppression every day. -Ghoncheh Ghavami, Guardian

Your Boycott Won't Help Iranian Women - When the World Chess Federation designated Iran host of the 2017 Women's World Chess Championship games, Mitra Hejazipour was thrilled. She is a women's grandmaster. She learned chess at 6, played in her first formal championship at age 9, and, now 23, she has spent her life traveling the world for chess tournaments and returning to the Islamic Republic of Iran with shiny medals. When she plays, she wears a hijab, and presumably, when the world's best women gather in Tehran to play chess next year, they will, too. - Azadeh Moavni, New York Times

Iran's first female triathlete Shirin Gerami set to make history at Ironman Kona -With her journey to the Ironman World Championship, Shirin Gerami aims to change the way women of Islamic faith approach-and are permitted to approach-sport, especially triathlon. -Brian Dessart, Sports Illustrated

Calls for chess boycott over Iran's hijab laws - Calls for a boycott of next year's Women's World Chess Championship in Tehran, in protest at Iran's strict hijab laws, have prompted a big debate inside Iran in both the official and social media. -BBC

Susan Polgar: Women Chess Players Need To Respect 'Cultural Differences' - World's top chess official Susan Polgar says that the women players need to respect 'cultural differences' after many of the highest-ranking female players have called for a boycott of the next year's world championships in Iran. They are going to boycott the competition after being told that they'd need to compete wearing hijabs

... Payvand News - 10/15/16 ... --

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