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Islamic women's games in Iran challenge to hardline rulers

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Teheran (dpa) - Women in Iran have to cover body contours and hair with long gowns and scarves so that they are properly covered in front of "strange men" in public.

The restrictions make it impossible for Iranian sportswomen to attend international competitions.

In order to tackle this problem, women's activist and head of the Women's Sports Federation Faezeh Hashemi arranges games for Moslem women in which they can compete internationally without being watched by a male audience and television cameras.

But the reformist daughter of ex-president Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani, one of the most influential men in Iran, has to travel a long and winding road to persuade the country's clergy and non- clerical hardliners to gain permission - and money - for the games.

"It's indeed not easy at all," Hashemi said, not willing however to go into details to avoid creating more problems with her male opponents than she already has.

Another official of the women's sports federation however disclosed some of the many problems Hashemi and her team, consisting of mainly female student volunteers, faced before holding the fourth Islamic games on Saturday in Teheran.

"They (men) tell us that the money (estimated at millions of dollars) is wasted as the records achieved at the games are not registered anyway," said the official on condition of anonymity.

Due to the absence of acknowledged referees and television cameras, no record is expected to be registered or acknowledged during the games.

The level of the games is said by local sportswomen to be below European or American national competitions anyway.

"The other problem is the inauguration ceremony where dancing units are banned," she added.

Despite the ban, Hashemi and the women's sports federation played techno music in the run-up to the inauguration ceremony encouraging not only the Iranian women's team to engage in spontaneous dancing but also the teams from far more Islamic states such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

"For the inauguration we tricked the sports officials with the term harmonious movements instead of dances," a voluntary aid of the games said.

Dozens of young Iranian women and men performed a modern dance to psychedelic music leading the 10,000 spectators to standing ovations in the Enqelab sports complex in Teheran. The spectacle was met by grim faces from the male officials in the VIP lounge.

Hashemi is also a political activist who tries to put across her political standpoints in her job as a sports official.

"We have also invited this time athletes from non-Moslem countries, even from the United States and Britain," Hashemi said, referring especially to two countries which are politically at odds with Islamic Iran.

"We have to clarify that sports has no boundaries and in the first place stands for peace and friendship," Hashemi added.

Although only one athlete, her male coach and a female referee were invited for the games, still the international department of the games could not gain their visa until 48 hours before the game.

"Thanks to Mrs. Hashemi's efforts, we eventually got (the visa) in time," an American team member said.

In the fourth Islamic games, 27 teams from Moslem states and 8 from non-Moslem states competed in 18 fields, including track and field, basketball, football, golf, handball, karate and swimming.

Attending the Islamic games is for most of the Iranian female athletes the only opportunity to get out of the national level and face foreign competitors.

"We trained for four years for these games," said Baharak Zarinqaba, captain of Iran's national basketball team.

Asked whether she would like to attend international games like other athletes, she replied, "Sure, but we have our own rules in this country and we must obey them."

Iranian sportswomen can only attend international games in categories such as shooting and archery where their Islamic outfits cause no hindrance.

Hashemi said that her women's sports federation is involved in talks with Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, over allowing women with Islamic outfits in judo, karate, taekwondo and horse-jumping as well.

"We have to make the best out of the few opportunities we have and enjoy the minimum of success as a great achievement," the 42-year-old Hashemi said.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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