Elnaz Rekabi, a 33-year-old female athlete who is a member of the national team, took part in the finals of the Asian Rock-Climbing Championship in South Korea. In an unprecedented move and for the first time, an athlete representing Iran’s national team in these competitions chose to compete without a hijab. She made this move during the height of the protests. She came in fourth place in the competitions. The images of her competing without the Islamic hijab were widely published on social media, and this act was admired and supported by many Iranians inside and outside the country. About six years ago, in an interview with Euro News, she called the hijab an impediment and added that the hijab can create more physical challenges for women athletes when climbing.
Elnaz Rekabi, who became incommunicado after her competition ended, posted a story on her Instagram page, and stated that “she inadvertently had a wardrobe malfunction” and is “returning to Iran with the team”. This statement, which is not known under what circumstances was written by Ms. Rekabi, caused a strong reaction among many social media users and fueled speculations about her fate. In this regard, the British newspaper Guardian published a report on Elnaz Rakabi’s unclear situation and wrote: “Alnaz’s friends have not been able to contact her since Sunday.”
The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) announced on Tuesday, October 18, by publishing a statement that it is in contact with this athlete and the Iranian Rock-Climbing Federation and supports her. In this statement, it was stated that Elnaz Rekabi’s “safety” is very important to the International Federation of Sport Climbing, and this federation carefully monitors the situation in Iran and supports the athletes’ right to choose and freedom of expression.
Elnaz Rekabi returned to Iran at around 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 19, and was greeted by a large crowd that had gathered to welcome her at Imam Khomeini Airport, and many were worried about her arrest after entering Iran. Ms. Rekabi was met with cheers and applause from her admirers and people called her a hero. At the same time, the state media chose not to talk about success at the Asian Rock-Climbing Championship but instead chose to call into her question her commitment to wearing a hijab in these competitions.
Hours after Elnaz Rekabi returned from the competition, Seyed Hamid Sajjadi, Minister of Sports and Youth met her in his office and took a group photo. This meeting caused a severe reaction from Ahmad Alam Al-Hoda, Friday Imam of Mashhad. Alam Al-Hoda called Elnaz Rakabi “a deceived girl” and stated: “She brought down the reputation of the system in front of the eyes of all the people of the world, why did the Minister of Sports meet with this lady while she was still without a hijab and wearing only a hat?”