Despite Iran’s strict Islamic requirement to wear a head covering, a female Iranian athlete was seen without a hijab when competing at the International Federation of Sport Climbing Asia Championships last Sunday.
The public defiance of 33-year-old sports climber Elnaz Rekabi violated Iran’s mandatory rule to wear a hijab outside the country when representing the nation abroad. This has led to concerns over her safety on the journey back to Iran.
Rekabi’s actions were seen by social media users as a “courageous” act, especially during a time of worldwide protest and uprising following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after allegedly wearing the state-issued hijab improperly.
Acts of intended or unintended defiance have caused harmful repercussions to athletes in past years. Female Iranian boxer, Sadaf Khadem, conducted a similar act of silent protest during an international athletic competition in 2019. Despite being set to return home from France, Khadem could not return due to arrest warrants.
After the news about Rekabi gained attention, she posted a Farsi statement on her Instagram story about her decision not to wear a hijab being “unintentional.”
She claimed that her “veiling inadvertently faced issues because of inappropriate timing and unexpected call for the competition to begin” and apologized for the “concerns” she had created.
In an interview with Rekabi’s brother, he also denied that she took off her hijab on purpose and said that Rekabi would continue in Iran’s climbing team.
International groups addressed fears for Rekabi after her statement, speculating that she is forced to omit the truth about her dress code violation’s real intent and her stance on the resistance.
IFSC, who hosted the athletic competition in Seoul, released a statement on the concerns, stating they “fully support the rights of athletes, their choices and expression of free speech.”
The IFSC also said they would continue to monitor the situation as it develops on Rekabi’s arrival to Iran, in contact with the Iranian Climbing Federation.
Women across Iran continue to fear for their safety. Still, hundreds of protestors continue to fight for women’s freedom to have autonomy on how to dress and express their religious beliefs.
Like Rekabi’s noncompliance, senior Iranian official Ali Larijani also recently inspired further demonstrations to protest the fight for women’s freedom globally by being one of the first officials to publicly condemn the regime’s aggressive enforcement of the hijab laws and response to the protestors.