Saturday, November 3, 2007

Women's Rugby in Iran


This unbelievable but true article was shared by a fabulous Persian friend.
My favorite parts are the ones about "letting off steam"

14:03 MECCA TIME, 11:03 GMT

Iranian women tackle rugby

Women in Iran enjoy the physicality of rugby,
and play the game as a way to let off steam [AFP]

Rugby and women may not seem an ideal combination in Islamic Iran, but females are enthusiastically taking up the rough sport amid official encouragement for them to participate in physical activities.
Women in Iran proudly see themselves as the most liberated in the Middle East, but are still expected to combine their careers and leisure activities with traditional expectations of childbearing, cooking and cleaning.

All women must cover their heads and bodily contours in Iran, with the rugby field being no exception.

Players wearing the 'maghnaeh', a garment that fully covers the head, shoulders and neck, along with a loose blue waistcoat, a long-sleeved dark T-shirt and loose tracksuit trousers run from rucks to mauls all over the field.

It is not the most appropriate uniform for playing rugby, but the players don't seem to mind, especially when the game allows them to let off steam in a way that is unimaginable elsewhere in their lives.

"This is not a violent sport for women at all, despite what people think. We need to discharge our energy."

Zahra Nouri,
Tehran team captain

"I am extraordinarily interested in rugby and it does not matter what I wear. It is not uncomfortable," said 16-year-old Sahar Azizi, a high school student.

Elham Shahsavari, a 24-year-old Iranian woman, believes she has found a sport perfect for her, and is a member of the Tehran women's rugby team.

"In early 2006, Gorgan University advised me to play rugby because of my physical power," said the well-built Shahsavari, who overcame objections from her family who worried about her travelling to training in a Tehran suburb.

"Rugby Union was just my thing."

The rugby revolution

The team's Islamic dress may hinder them
against Western opposition [AFP]

A quarter of a century ago, in the early years of the 1979 Islamic revolution when competitive sports for women were strongly discouraged, it would have been unthinkable for Iranian women to play a sport as physical as rugby.

However much has changed since then, even if women playing sport in Iran still have a long way to go before they are truly competitive at an international level.

In the 1990s, encouragement from Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of then-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, helped women to take up sport again.

Initially women mainly participated in stationary sports such as archery and shooting but now compete in a wider range of physical activities including strength-based disciplines like rowing, martial arts and rugby.

Alireza Iraj, Tehran women's rugby coach, admitted that the team's Islamic dress would make it impossible for them to play against sides from Western nations as "the long sleeves and loose clothes gives the opponents an easy chance to grab them."

"They have to play with Muslim countries who have similar clothes," he said.

Letting off steam

Iranian women are encouraged to play sport as
they rise towards international level [AFP]

As a man coaching a female team, 37-year-old Iraj knows he has to stay in line with one of Iran's Islamic rules which states that members of the opposite sex cannot touch each other unless they are married couples or immediate members of a family.

When advising the team on how to tackle, Iraj keeps a decent distance away from the women and then instructs one of the players to demonstrate how to grab an opponent rather than carrying out the move himself.

"This is not a violent sport for women at all, despite what people think. We need to discharge our energy," said Zahra Nouri, team captain.

Pouran Taherabadi, the mother of one of the players, was happy to see the level of physical activity, saying it would make it easier for her to deal with her energetic daughter at home.

"It is good for us that she has the chance here to discharge her energy," she said.

"I have nothing against it."

The Tehran women's rugby team was set up in 2003 and a year after it won the national championship.

Other women's rugby teams in the country are from Golestan, Kerman, Kermanshah, Semnan, North Khorasan, Shiraz and Isfahan.
Source: Agencies

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