Elnaz Rekabi proudly returns to Iran after competing without Hijab

Rekabi reportedly under house arrest in Iran after climbing without hijab.

Cristian Turner-Bell
26th October 2022
Image: The Courier
Iranian Climber Elnaz Rekabi was met by large crowds on her return to Tehran after competing without a head scarf in South Korea.

Video footage captured large crowds gathered at Imam Khomeini International Airport on the outskirts of Tehran; welcoming the competitive climber back to Iran. Despite landing at 4am, she was given a raucous ovation with people clapping and chanting her name.

leading to growing concerns for her safety

Controversy surrounding Rekabi competing without a hijab took place to the backdrop of widespread demonstrations following the death of 22 year old Mahsa Amini. She was beaten to death by Iran's morality police after they deemed her hijab as being worn incorrectly. A widespread internet and social media blackout has followed across Iran, amidst a strict and violent crackdown. Norway-based Iran Human Rights have reported at least 215 deaths so far.

Rekabi competed without a hijab during the IFSC Climbing Asian Championships and friends have reported being unable to contact her since then, leading to growing concerns for her safety.

Two days after the competition on the 18th October, a post was made on her Instagram where she apologised for "unintentionally" competing without a headscarf after being "called to compete unpredictably." The post sought to suppress fears surrounding her wellbeing by stating that she was on her way back to Iran with the rest of the team.

A source told BBC Persian that authorities threatened to take away her family's property if she did not make the statement. She is now deemed to be under "house arrest," whilst authorities claim she is resting.

A statement from the International Federation of Sport Climbing said they had contacted both Ms Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation and were "trying to establish the facts."

"It is important to stress that athletes' safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation," they added. "The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech."

she was given a raucous ovation with people clapping and chanting her name

The video footage from Tehran's airport confirms her return to Iran where she was greeted by her family who handed her bunches of flowers. Her hair was notably covered by a black baseball cap and hoodie.

A state interview was then broadcast with Ms Rekabi where she reaffirmed her apology to the "Iranian people for the confusion and concerns." She again explained that not wearing the headscarf was inadvertent.

"I was suddenly and unexpectedly called on to compete while I was at the women's locker room," she said. "I was busy wearing my shoes and fixing my equipment and forgot to wear my hijab, which I should have worn. "Thank goodness, I've returned to Iran in good health and safety. I apologise to the Iranian people for the confusion and concerns."

Rekabi's subsequent comments draw clear comparisons with past Iranian sportswomen who have competed without a headscarf and have been forced to issues similar apologies; some chose to never return to Iran.

The Iranian embassy strongly denies the 'fake news, lies and false information' surrounding the treatment of Ms Rekabi since she left the championships held in South Korea.

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