Iranwire – Iranian women athletes who participated in last year’s nationwide protests or took stands against the Islamic Republic’s compulsory headscarf rules have been forced to back down from their beliefs under the pressure of the Ministry of Sports and Youth as well as the security and intelligence agencies, IranWire has learned.
Through interviews with relatives of several athletes and information obtained from the Ministry of Sports, IranWire has uncovered a systematic pattern of pressure on prominent sportswomen, particularly in recent weeks.
The tactics used against these defiant women include imposing travel bans, closing their bank accounts, prohibiting them from attending national training camps or from accessing sports venues, and threatening them with arrest.
Razieh Janbaz’s journey as one of the pioneering stars of Iranian women’s sports abruptly ended on September 26 when she bid farewell to the national handball team, citing her “respect for the high spirit of Mahsa Amini and her sisters in Iran.”
And on January 16, Janbaz posted a picture of herself without a hijab on her Instagram page. “I’m not waiting for freedom anymore. If you can, confine me,” she wrote in a message accompanying the photo.
It appears that the Islamic Republic has now managed to silence Janbaz. Her Instagram page no longer features the aforementioned text and image or the videos she had shared.
On February 15, Janbaz posted several stories announcing she had been “banned” from leaving the country. “It’s bewildering that a protester is treated like a criminal,” she wrote.
According to information obtained by IranWire, Janbaz has been unable to have her travel ban lifted, while the Ministry of Sports has threatened to shut down her gym.
Both the ministry and security institutions want her to delete all her posts without hijab, share a picture of herself wearing a headscarf, and unfollow the Instagram page of Ali Karimi, a legendary Iranian footballer who has voiced support to protesters.
On November 10, Parmida Qasemi, a member of the national archery team, removed her hijab during a ceremony attended by sports officials.
Just two days later, she explained the incident by saying in front of a camera that the headscarf “fell off my head.”
Today, Qasemi’s Instagram page no longer reflects her as one of the most esteemed figures in Iranian sports. She has not received invitations to join the national team’s training camps and has been compelled to stop following some prominent sports figures critical of the Islamic Republic’s policies.
Rumors have circulated within the archery federation that she, like several other women athletes, has been banned from traveling abroad.
Niloofar Mardani, a 28-year-old skater, made headlines on November 8 when she competed in an international event in Turkey without a hijab and wore a black shirt with the name of Iran written on it at the medal ceremony.
On the same day, the Ministry of Sports issued a statement labeling her as an “unofficial athlete.”
Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), published a report condemning Mardani’s behavior while emphasizing the “heroic and prideful deeds of Iranian women athletes who wear the Islamic hijab.”
Mardani later had to publicly apologize to the Ministry of Sports for “forgetting” to wear a hijab during the competition.
In recent months, several Iranian skaters have faced pressure from both the ministry and the national federation to limit their activities on social media.
What the Islamic Republic Seeks from the Athletes
Over the past few years, the government has attempted to influence female athletes to advertise products and services including “worthless goods” and “betting sites.”
The athletes’ response has been quite the opposite of what the government expected. Instead of succumbing to pressure, they have used social media to stand up for their rights.
However, in recent months, coercive tactics forced a number of prominent women athletes to comply with certain demands.
Climber Elnalz Rekabi, who was detained after competing in South Korea in October without a hajib, has stopped following Karimi’s Instagram page.