Iranian swimmer Elham Asghari: 'My 20km record has been held hostage'

On a Tuesday morning in June, Elham Asghari stepped into the tidal waters of the chilly Caspian sea in northern Iran to swim 20km in full Islamic dress. But her record-breaking nine-hour feat has not been recognised by national authorities because she is a woman.
"Although I [stuck to] the full Islamic dress code and had swimmingofficials present at all times, [the authorities] said no matter how Islamic my swimming gear, it was unacceptable," she told the Guardian. "They said the feminine features of my body were showing as I came out of water."
Swimming in open waters had been Asghari's childhood dream. To achieve her goal, she looked for training programmes on the internet and came up with the idea of designing a special swimsuit – a full hijab, covering her body from head to toe. It adds some 6kg to her weight in water and, she says, it is painful to wear.
Last month, although she broke her previous national swimming record, Iranian authorities refused to recognise her achievement.
In frustration Asghari posted a video of herself online with the help of her manager, Farvartish Rezvaniyeh, who decided to help publicise her plight when he heard about it on Facebook. "I could not believe this injustice was happening to a record-breaking champion. I contacted her … and we made the video," he said.
The footage, which includes the 32-year-old swimming in her Islamic swimsuit and appealing to her fellow Iranians for support, quickly caught the attention of thousands of people who shared the video clip on social networks. Tributes poured in as more people became aware of her cause.
In the video, posted on YouTube and viewed by at least 120,000 people, Asghari promises not to give in to pressure. "No swimmer will ever accept to swim with such swimsuits; swimming with these swimsuits always hurts my body," she says in a voiceover as she is seen swimming in a pool.
"I swam 20km in [the northern city of] Nowshahr, they lowered it to 15km. I protested and they accepted 18km. Yet now, they do not register the record.
"My 20km record has been held hostage in the hands of people who cannot even swim a distance of 20 metres. I have passed tough days and nights. This incident is unbelievable for me. I will not give in to pressure. Swimming is not exclusively for men – we ladies do well too."
Women in Iran can use public swimming pools at gender-segregated times, or women-only sections, but sports officials are reluctant to allow them into open waters. "They fear that if they recognise my record then they would unwittingly approve my swimming gear and that would eventually give women swimmers access to open waters," Asghari said.
She started swimming aged five, she said. "Sometimes I feel I am an amphibian, capable of living both on land and in water. In a 24-hour [period], I spend as much time on land that I spent in water. My father was a veteran wrestler … it was him who encouraged me to register my records."
In a previous open-water race near the southern island of Kish, Asghari said police boats tried to stop her in a dramatic sequence of events that led to her leg and hip being sliced by the vessel's propellers.
After battling various gender-related obstacles during PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad's eight years in office, Asghari has pinned her hopes for change on the newly elected leader, Hassan Rouhani, who will be sworn in in August. "I hope that in President Rouhani's government, these people [hindering my career] will have no place. I will definitely follow up the case about my swimming record [when he takes office]."
Iran prevents female swimmers from participating in overseas competitions. The Women's Islamic Games in Tehran is one of the few international events where domestic swimmers are permitted to take part.
Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/05/iranian-swimmer-elham-asghari 

Azerbaijan to host Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017

By Nigar Orujova
The eighth elective general assembly of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has decided to hold the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan in 2017, the Azerbaijani National Olympic Committee said on July 24.
The ISSF member states voted for holding the Islamic Solidarity Games 2017 in Azerbaijan at the Assembly.
The Azerbaijani capital put forward its bid to host the tournament in February. The tournament is due from June 23 to July 2, 2017.
A presentation about Azerbaijan was made during the General Assembly by Vice President of NOC and ISSF Chingiz Huseynzade, head of the international relations department and executive director of the organizing committee of the Islamic Solidarity Games Baku-2017, Kenul Nurullayeva, and NOC expert on international programs and member of the working group of the Islamic Solidarity Games Mehman Kerimov, according to the NOC.
As part of the General Assembly the "Baku-2017" book was presented. The book includes sections on the concept of the Games, a review of the political and economic situation, legal aspects, customs and immigration aspects, information about the environment and meteorology, finance, marketing, communications, sports facilities and competitions, residential areas, transportation, security, medical services and doping control.
A special video on the Islamic games was demonstrated to the participants and relevant booklets were distributed.
New staff of the ISSF for 2013-2017 was also determined during the event. Thus, Chingiz Huseynzade was re-elected as a vice-president of the organization for the next four years.
Kenul Nurullayeva became a member of the executive committee. This landmark decision on the membership of a woman in the ISSF executive committee was made for the first time since 1968, on the basis of structural changes.
Azerbaijan became the only country represented in the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation by two representatives.
Moreover, it was decided to hold the General Assembly of the ISSF in Baku in 2015.
In May in Baku, ISSF Secretary General Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Nassar said that the evaluation commission for the Games believes that Baku has all the suitable conditions for hosting the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.
The Games, which will bring together athletes from 57 countries, will be held under the slogan "Solidarity is our power". More than 160 Azerbaijani sportsmen will participate in the Games. The Muslim religion of all athletes is not a pre-condition for participation in the competition.
The Islamic Solidarity Games is a multinational, multi-sport event involving the elite athletes of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN with 57 member states spread over four continents.
The first of the ISG tournaments was held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia with an Olympic-style tournament aimed at showing Muslim sports prowess and featuring 6,000 athletes.
Azerbaijan gained four gold, four silver and seven bronze medals at the first ISG, thus becoming the eighth country in the medal table.
The second event, originally scheduled to take place in October 2009 in Iran, and later re-scheduled for April 2010, was cancelled after a dispute emerged between Iran and the Arab countries. The third Games will be held in Indonesia this year.
Source: http://www.azernews.az/sports/57300.html


Libya's women's football team banned from major tournament

By Chris Stephen
Rights groups say the problems facing Libya’s women footballers are part of a larger struggle over women's rights. Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images
Libya's international woman's football team, already under threat from religious extremists, has been banned from taking part in a major tournament next week by the country's sporting authorities.
In a move likely to raise questions about its commitment to equal rights, Libya's football association told the team it cannot fly to Germany on Saturday, citing concerns that it takes place within the holy month of Ramadan.
"The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting," said midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed. "We want to go but they say you cannot go."
Libya had been due to play teams from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Germany in Discover Football, a tournament funded by the German government. It is billed as the biggest gathering of Middle-Eastern women's footballers since the 2011 Arab spring.
El-Alabed, at 37 the oldest player in the squad and who played in Liverpool while earning a Phd in sports science, said the ban had shattered hopes that the fall of Gaddafi would bring social change. "Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying."
After initially giving permission for the tournament, Libya's FA changed its mind. "It is Ramadan," said the FA general secretary, Nasser Ahmed. "We are not against women playing football."
It is understood German diplomats are working behind the scenes to provide guarantees that the 18-strong squad would be secure in Berlin.
Threats from Islamist radicals have already forced the team to train in secret, constantly switching venues and deploying armed guards.
In June Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last September, issued a statement saying it "severely condemned" women's football
"This is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law," it said. "It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate."
Salim Jabar, one of Libya's most popular television preachers, has demanded the women's team disband, saying it was against the strictures of Islam.
"This team consists of tall, good-looking young girls, and that's the last thing this country needs," he said in a sermon broadcast from his Benghazi mosque. "For the first day that she [a Libyan woman] signed up for this team, she has sold herself and brought shame on her family."
Women's football was allowed during the Gaddafi regime, but only in reduced format with teams playing in gyms to be out of the public eye in this conservative Muslim country. Since the revolution the international team has been allowed to play 11-a-side, but its higher profile has made it a lightning rod for extremists.
"They [radicals] say to us you are no good, they intimidate us," says team captain Fadwa el-Bahi, 25.
At one training session, the location of which the Guardian was asked to keep secret, the team coach, Emmad el-Fadeih, said the women had already met strict FA guidelines. All play in head-to-foot blue tracksuits rather than shorts and T-shirts, and most wore the hijab.
El-Fadeih said the team had complied with FA rules that only unmarried women could travel to Germany, and then only if their father or guardian gave written permission.

"There are groups like Ansar al-Sharia don't want them, some people say football is not suitable for women," said el-Fadeih.
Fears of a backlash also saw team members refuse to be photographed for the tournament website. "They don't want their faces displayed," said Naziha Arebi, a British-Libyan filmmaker. "These women just want to play football."
El-Bahi, a geophysics graduate, insists nothing in the Qur'an bans women from sport. "The prophet (Muhammad and his wife used to run together and compete with each other."
She said the authorities should be highlighting the role women's football plays in fostering togetherness in a country wracked with militia violence. "This team is an example of reconciliation," she said. "We have former Gaddafi girls and former rebels, side-by-side."
Rights groups say the problems facing Libya's women footballers are part of a larger struggle by women who have struggled to win their rights. This month Libya's congress, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, gave just six seats to women in a 60-strong commission formed to write a new constitution.
Tournament organisers say Libya's place will remain open. "We have heard that the football association decided that they are not allowed to go," said Discover Football spokeswoman Johanna Kosters "We will wait and see if they get on the plane."


Spain's IOC member Marisol Casado says Turkey has removed women wearing headscarves in bid

Instanbul Olympic bid
The head of the Turkish bid, Ugur Erdener, speaks during the presentation of the Candidate Cities for the 2020 Olympic Games during the Association of National Olympic Committees meeting in Switzerland. Picture: AP Source: AP
A SPANISH IOC member questioned why Turkish bid leaders have failed to show images of women wearing headscarves in Istanbul's presentations for the 2020 Olympics.
While declining to answer questions about security in Turkey, Marisol Casado instead raised the issue of women who wear head coverings in the predominantly Muslim country.
Istanbul is competing against Madrid and Tokyo for the 2020 Games, which will be decided by the IOC on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The three cities made closed-door presentations to IOC members last week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"There was one question that was never addressed, and that is the number of women who wear the veil," Ms Casado said at a news conference for Madrid's bid.
"There was never an image of a woman wearing a veil in any of their presentation videos."

Turkey, a country that sits on both the Asian and European continents, is governed by secular laws. It would be the first mainly Muslim country to host the Olympics if Istanbul wins in its fifth attempt.
"Anyone who visits Istanbul will be aware that around 30 per cent of women there tend to wear veils," Ms Casado said. "People who live in Arab nations are looking for something that will be more representative of their culture."
Ms Casado's remark was reminiscent of a faux pas made by Tokyo Governor Noiki Onose in April when he compared his city to Istanbul by saying that the Turkish city was underdeveloped and less equipped to host the games than Tokyo.
Mr Inose was also quoted as saying "the only thing (Muslim countries) share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes."
The governor later apologised.
Under IOC bid rules, candidate cities are prohibited from criticizing rivals.
Ms Casado spoke as Spanish IOC members gave an assessment of how Madrid's bid was shaping up.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., accompanied by Jose Perurena and Ms Casado, said Madrid's bid for the 2020 Olympics broke a long tradition of overspending to host the event.
"It's a new model," Mr Samaranch said. "The Madrid Games would be good for the Olympic movement" because it puts forward the idea that games can be organized without massive spending.
Mr Samaranch said it was now more important to "use our brains instead of the wallet." He said hosting the games would also help Spanish sports and the country's economy as a whole. He said that Madrid had "explained clearly that we want it and we need it."
Madrid has sought to present what it has labeled as a low-spend, responsible model, respectful of the 27 per cent unemployment rate that the economic crisis has caused.
Both Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Economy Minister Luis de Guindos have stated that the games posed no financial risk to Spain. Madrid has stressed that 80 per cent of its proposed venues are ready and it will only need $US1.9 billion ($2.1 billion) to complete and burnish its Olympic infrastructure.
"We have limited funds," Mr Samaranch said. "Our presentations have had to be very short and sometimes frustrating because of that."
Istanbul has defended its $US19.4 billion infrastructure budget while Tokyo boasts a reserve fund of $US4.5 billion to be used for the Olympics.
Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/more-sports/spains-ioc-member-marisol-casado-says-turkey-has-removed-women-wearing-headscarves-in-bid/story-fnibbyyv-1226677414888 


The Muslim women who are excelling at top-level sport

Salma Bi (right) … 'The main challenge is family support'.
Salma Bi (right) … 'The main challenge is family support'. Photograph: Nick Wilkinsonk
On a recent weekday evening at London's Wembley Stadium, half a dozen Muslim women, some wearing headscarves, were taking it in turns to flip over some male opponents with impressive shoulder-height kicks.
These women, demonstrating Safari Kickboxing's female-only Muay Thai Kickboxing classes, were taking part in a ground-breaking celebration of Muslim women in sport. Pioneered by the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation (MWSF) and supported by the FA, the evening's Ambassador Awards showcased the diverse sporting talent of Muslim women across the UK and abroad.
"I cannot think of a better backdrop to these inaugural awards than Wembley," says the FA's chairman David Bernstein. "It is a stadium synonymous with achievement, excellence, inclusivity, variety and success … I've seen what Muslim women have achieved – it will be an inspiration for the wider community."
With awards ranging from UK Sportswoman of the Year to Volunteer of the Year, the MWSF is keen to recognise different forms of sporting success – both at professional and grassroots levels. The organisation strongly believes that faith and sport for both genders are entirely compatible and that the culture of sport is an essential part of Islamic history. Since its establishment in 2001 it has been at the forefront of encouraging physical activity amongst women from British ethnic-minority communities, particularly focusing on the cultural sensitivities of Muslim women.
So why aren't enough Muslim women getting involved in sports? The recurring theme seems to be cultural attitudes. Salma Bi, a 26-year-old cricketer, and the only female Muslim umpire at Level 1A, has founded her own coaching academy, and believes "the main challenge is the support of the family". It is much harder to excel in anything if your loved ones don't understand why it's important to you.
Moreover, concerns over maintaining modest dress and contact sports with members of the opposite sex can also make traditional sports clubs off-putting. Ayesha Abdeen, MWSF's Chief Executive says, "we found that Muslim women are the hardest to get active – if you can cater to their requirements, you can cater to anybody's".
Offering female only sports clubs or sessions has helped to combat this and provide opportunities where more Muslim women feel comfortable in enjoying sport. MWSF also allows mothers to bring their kids along to some training sessions.
Cultural barriers to participation were recently highlighted in Saudi Arabia, when the country refused to allow Saudi women to compete in the Olympics. The institutional barrier, by contrast, can be seen in Fifa's ban on women wearing hijab on the pitch. The Iranian women's football team could not complete their 2012 Olympic second-round qualifying match against Jordan because they refused to remove their headscarves.
The new awards will hopefully provide role models for other Muslim women. One such role model for many will be the MWSF's International Sportswoman of the Year, Ibtihaj Muhammad. She is an American sabre fencer and Olympic hopeful who has made the last two US World Championship teams is ranked second in the US and hopes to be the first Muslim woman representing the US in any sport whilst wearing hijab. Although she has said it is "extremely difficult being different in the sports world – be it for religion or race" issues of faith, race, gender and sport need not clash. "I would never fence if it compromised who I am and my religion – I love that the two work together."
Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2012/may/10/muslim-women-excelling-at-top-level-sport