Sports and religion colliding. Iranian rock climber, Elnaz Rekabi, 33, had quite the experience throughout the climbing competition in Seoul, South Korea for competing with a black headband instead of wearing her hijab. A hijab is piece of fabric seen used by Muslim woman over their head, neck and chest, hiding them but still revealing their faces. The word hijab represents a veil or a barrier, and it is supposed to preserve the woman’s image and protect them from any unrelated males as well as the outside world. By competing without her hijab, it was expected that Rekabi would face some punishment, however, the president of the Iran national Olympic committee has made it clear that no punishment will be given since what happen was unintentional and can’t necessarily be seen as a reason for punishment. “It’s a small issue. I’m surprised that it is being talked about so much,” KhosraviVafa expressed. “In our view it was not a big issue.”
Regardless of punishments, people must have wondered why Rekabi wouldn’t wear her hijab. Turns out the reason was she was unexpectedly called and apparently got caught up in the rush of it while putting on her gear. “I was busy wearing my shoes and fixing my equipment and forgot to wear my hijab, which I should have worn.” Rebaki never intended not to wear her hijab – even though she was aware of the importance of wearing the hijab, she admitted the act being unintentional.
The climbing competition was streamed on YouTube TV. People were able to access it through the International Federation of Sport Climbing channel. The case hit the headlines after the footage of the climber competing without her hijab had gone viral online through Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. There were rumors that Rekabi would retire after what had happened. The climber certainly felt tense and stressed and was interviewed by the media after returning to Iran. “I came back to Iran with peace of mind, although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened.” The climber was forced into an apology by the Iranian authorities, but also received as a hero by a crowd of supporters upon her return, as they praised her act as a powerful statement towards women in Iran.
There have been recent protests in Iran, which come from years of a fight for freedom. On September 16, 2022, the death of Mahsa Amini, who was wearing her hijab improperly, sparked women in Iran to stand up for one another. It also raised concern on what could happen to Elnaz Rekabi. The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) spoke about Rekabi’s case, highlighting their support on the athlete’s safety, “It is important to stress that athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation.”