Iran hosted its first-ever international marathon, I Run Iran, on April 9, which, unsurprising, didn’t include any female runners.
But two women couldn’t care less.
When the Islamic republic launched the event last year, its founder Sebastian Straten, a Dutch national, announced women would not be allowed to run due to local traditional and religious constraints.
“Unfortunately, women are not allowed to run this first limited edition,” Straten said at the time. “There are many (Iranian) women who like to run and we hope in the next edition we get the permission for women to run the marathon.”
Ironically, the object of the race, according to its official website, is to provide an opportunity to “men, women and children from different cultures and continents” to “discover, to enjoy, to eat and to celebrate together.”
It even states dress code rules for female competitors: “Women are obliged to wear a headscarf which can be colorful and loosely draped around the head. Skirts showing bare legs are not accepted. A knee-long coat or top over your jeans or trousers will be fine. Wearing sandals or slippers without socks is not a problem.”
Yet, as per AFP’s Tehran-based video journalist Bahar Shoghi, no women were allowed to run.
Whole town in the streets chanting for runners. Women were not allowed to run. "I run Iran" pic.twitter.com/nGNFJt5bHS— Bahar Shoghi (@baharshoghi) April 9, 2016
However, not all women obeyed the discriminatory ban.
As Iranian-American journalist Lisa Daftari pointed out, two women defied the restriction on female marathoners and unofficially took part in the race.
While Iran has national level women’s teams for sports, athletes are subject to crippling restrictions, such as wearing the traditional hijab, which was banned by FIFA up until 2014.
Rules for female spectators are equally troubling. Women in Iran are (legally) prohibited from volleyball matches — as well as soccer stadiums, for that matter. Those who are brave enough to resist face punishment from the authorities.
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The marathon started from the city of Shiraz and finished at the Gate of all Nations at Persepolis, the 2,500-year-old seat of the First Persian Empire, which is one of Iran’s 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
More than 200 men from 40 countries reportedly registered, including 23 from the United States and 15 from the United Kingdom.