TEHRAN, Sept 17: An American Muslim runner is to be the first woman to represent the US in Iran’s Islamic Women Games, although photographers will not be allowed to record the event to be held in Tehran from Sept 22 to 28.
Saira Kureshi, 26, will compete in the 800 and 1500 meter in the fourth all-women games, since they were launched in 1993 as a way for Iranian women to compete while observing their strict dress code of being covered head to toe.
The organizers could not provide much information about Kureshi except that “her records meet the minimum standard needed for entering the race”.
Despite severed ties between Iran and the US since 1979, Kureshi is not the first American athlete to come to the Islamic republic. In 1998 an American wrestling team took part in the international Takhti Cup tournament.
But Kureshi will be the first American woman to compete in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
She will have to be fingerprinted upon arrival, according to Iranian measures taken in retaliation for similar regulations in the United States.
Male coaches, referees and spectators are banned from attending the Islamic Women Games except for golf, shooting and archery, where participants are modestly dressed and veiled.
Only these three competitions are open to male spectators and can be photographed or filmed, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies since the women appear in Islamic wear.
“We are seeking to empower and encourage Muslim women, who are absent from the international sports grounds due to their believes,” said Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who started the games in 1993.
In order to attract more athletes, this year non-Muslim women have been allowed to participate as long as they are on the national teams of their countries and agree to compete under the stipulated conditions.
Sportswomen from 48 countries, many of them Islamic, are coming to Tehran to compete in 18 sports. Iran’s Christian northern neighbor, Armenia, is sending 17 teams.
Athletics, shooting, table tennis and taekwondo have attracted the most participants.
The week-long event has few sponsors and has been allocated a budget of 10 billion rials (1.1 million dollars), which according to Hashemi “is barely enough” to cover costs.
“The games do not satisfy sponsors as there are no television cameras to show their advertisements,” she explained.
Although Iran has been approached by other Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Qatar wanting to host the games, Hashemi sees little chance of them leaving Iran.
“Other countries have different interpretations of Islam. I am not sure they would be able to hold the games like us with such observance of Islamic rules,” she said.
Since the Islamic revolution Iranian women have been mostly banned from international sporting events due to the obligatory head scarf and long coat that they must wear in front of men, even abroad.
Under the previous reformist government of the last eight years, Iran started sending women athletes to competitions abroad in the few fields where women are able to compete and wear the veil, such as shooting, taekwondo, fencing, canoeing, chess and horse riding.
In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Iran had a sole female representative in shooting.—AFP