Tue, Sep 27, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Women's games in Iran pose

DPA , TEHRAN

Women in Iran have to cover body contours and hair with long gowns and scarves so that they are properly covered in front of "strange men" in public. The restrictions make it impossible for Iranian sportswomen to attend international competitions.

In order to tackle this problem, women's activist and head of the Women's Sports Federation Faezeh Hashemi arranges games for Moslem women in which they can compete internationally without being watched by a male audience and television cameras.

But the reformist daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, one of the most influential men in Iran, has to travel a long and winding road to persuade the country's clergy and non-clerical hardliners to gain permission -- and money -- for the games.

"It's indeed not easy at all," she said, not willing, however, to go into details to avoid creating more problems with her male opponents than she already has.

Another official of the women's sports federation, however, disclosed some of the many problems Hashemi and her team, consisting of mainly female student volunteers, faced before holding the fourth Islamic games last Saturday in Tehran.

"They [men] tell us that the money [estimated at millions of dollars] is wasted as the records achieved at the games are not registered anyway," said the official on condition of anonymity.

Due to the absence of official referees and TV cameras, no record is expected to be registered or acknowledged during the games. The level of the games is said by local sportswomen to be below European or US national competitions anyway.

"The other problem is the inauguration ceremony where dancing units are banned," she added.

Despite the ban, Hashemi and the women's sports federation played techno music in the run-up to the inauguration ceremony encouraging not only the Iranian women's team to engage in spontaneous dancing but also the teams from far more Islamic states such as Afghanistan.

"For the inauguration we tricked the sports officials with the term harmonious movements instead of dances," a voluntary aid of the games said.

Dozens of young women and men performed a modern dance to psychedelic music leading the 10,000 spectators to standing ovations in the Enqelab sports complex. The spectacle was met by grim faces from the male officials in the VIP lounge.

Hashemi is also a political activist who tries to put across her political standpoints in her job as a sports official.

"We have also invited this time athletes from non-Moslem countries, even from the United States and Britain," she said, referring especially to two countries which are politically at odds with Iran.

"We have to clarify that sports has no boundaries and in the first place stands for peace and friendship," Hashemi said.

In the fourth Islamic games, 27 teams from Moslem states and 8 from non-Moslem states competed in 18 fields, including track and field, basketball, football, golf, handball, karate and swimming.

Attending the Islamic games is for most of the Iranian female athletes the only opportunity to get out of the national level and face foreign competitors.

"We trained for four years for these games," said Baharak Zarinqaba, captain of the national basketball team.

Asked whether she would like to attend international games like other athletes, she replied, "Sure, but we have our own rules in this country and we must obey them."

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