10-Year-Old Iranian Gymnast Caught Up in Hijab Controversy
The Iran Gymnastics Federation has walked back its threat to discipline a 10-year-old gymnast for allegedly taking part in an international competition without wearing the mandatory hijab.
Iranian women are required to wear the hijab, the head-to-toe-covering Islamic dress code, at all times in public.
On December 25, 2017, the hardline Tasnim News Agency claimed photos of the girl competing in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur without the mandatory hijab had been widely shared on social media.
“The young girl was not wearing a proper hijab,” claimed Tasnim, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. “She was wearing the same suit worn by non-Muslim female athletes.”
Following the report, the Gymnastics Federation distanced itself from the girl, whose name has not been released, and threatened to take disciplinary action.
“We do not condone this at all,” said the head of the federation, Zahra Inche Dargahi, on December 25. “Her suit was not proper for the Islamic Republic or an Iranian girl.”
However, after meeting with the girl’s family on December 26, Dargahi said a former employee of the federation had illegally downloaded the photos from her father’s phone.
“It appears the photos had been taken from the athlete’s father’s phone and distributed without permission,” said Daraghi. “The family has prepared a lawsuit, which will be handed to judicial authorities today.”
For his part, the father of the girl, Farshid Abdipour, denied that she even competed in Malaysia this year.
“These photos are not from Kuala Lumpur,” said Abdipour on December 25 after the Tasnim report was published. “My daughter had gone to Armenia for training. The whole family was there during the trip.”
“They want to build a case against my daughter with photos stolen from my phone,” he told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). “My daughter did not go to Malaysia. I can show you her passport to prove it.”
The controversy comes at a time when the Iran Gymnastics Federation is putting together a female national team for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
“I know our athletes like to take part in international competitions so we are trying to implement a plan to launch our national girls’ team in 2018 and hold competitions with the full observance of the Islamic Hijab,” Dargahi told Radio Tehran on December 25.
Iranian authorities have banned and penalized female athletes in the past for participating in international competitions without properly observing the Islamic Republic’s hijab laws. Women are also not allowed to watch male athletes compete in sports arenas or compete in certain sports domestically or abroad.
On April 7, 2017, women were forced to run a segregated route in Tehran’s first international marathon.
On March 30, some Iranian female billiard players were banned for a year from domestic competitions for allegedly not properly observing the hijab while playing matches at an international billiard event in China.
In February 2017, 18-year-old female chess player, Dorsa Derakhshani, was dropped from Iran’s national team for not covering her hair during international chess games in Gibraltar. In an op-ed in the New York Times published on December 29, she explained why she left Iran to compete on the US national team.
“…[T]ime and time again, those in charge of the Iranian national team showed that they cared more about the scarf covering my hair than the brain under it,” she wrote.