Let the Games Begin

Last week, Tehran’s women’s swim team beat Armenia and Qatar for
a gold medal at the fourth annual All-Women Games for Muslim and
Asian Capitals. The Iranian women also received a gold medal in
taekwando at the event, which was held in Tehran and attended by
some 600 competitors from 17 countries. Sound surprising? It
shouldn’t.

The All-Women Games were started in 1993 by Faezeh Hashemi, the
vice president of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, as a way for
Iranian women to participate in sports while maintaining their
religious beliefs and laws. In the past, one of the reasons Iranian
women were not able to participate in sports was because of their
country’s strict dress code. So that women can compete in
sports-appropriate clothing at the All Women affair, men are banned
from observing or officiating all events except for ‘shooting.’

Hashemi has had a significant effect on women’s athletics in
Iran. In addition to starting the All-Women Games, she also
campaigned for an Iranian women’s football program. Iran’s Football
Association has since agreed to let Iran’s Women’s Football
Association use the same training complex the men’s national team
uses for a 10-day women’s training camp, provided the men are gone
during that time.

Michael Theodoulou reports in the Christian Science
Monitor
that sports such as mountaineering, golf, skiing, and
paragliding are all popular with Iranian women because they are
‘activities in which the need to keep the body well covered is not
a serious hindrance to performance.’

Last year, the Iran Mountaineering Federation challenged women
climbers in Iran to take on Everest — 69 women responded. The
group, which needs to raise $400,000 for the expedition, plans on
scaling the peak in May. Theodoulou explains that ‘success would
put the team in an elite as rarefied as the atmosphere at the
mountain’s 8,850-meter summit.’ No Muslim women, and fewer than 100
women from the world over, have ever reached the summit of Mount
Everest, which is the world’s tallest peak.

Although women in sports still stirs controversy in Iran, it has
the support of many Iranian men. During the opening ceremony for
the Games, parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said that
sports are an important part of a healthy society and ‘we want to
show to the worlds that Muslim women can be active in sporting
fields while observing morals.’ He also pointed out that, ‘we want
to prove that the Islamic Republic can develop women’s sports
without making a copy of other nations’ programs since it has the
capacity to promote sports among women and observe the Islamic
dress code at the same time.’

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Tehran, Champion of Islamic Women Contests

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