The head of Iran’s National Olympic Committee said on Thursday that competing climber Elnaz Rekabi will not be penalized or stopped from work after running in South Korea over the weekend without wearing the obligatory headscarf for her country.
However, Rekabi’s supporters remain concerned for the 33-year-old climber as the government has targeted other athletes for supporting the weeks-long protests that have rocked Iran. Activists say security forces have killed more than 200 people and arrested thousands in an ongoing crackdown on dissent.
Speaking to the Associated Press in Seoul, Mahmud Khosravi Vafa said there was no reason to take disciplinary action against Rekabi because not wearing the hijab was an “unintended” act on her part.
An Instagram account linked to the riders also described the decision as “unintentional,” and she also did so after arriving in Tehran early Wednesday. She blamed her rush to compete, although a video of her climb on Sunday shows her relaxed and waving to the crowd.
“It’s a small issue. I’m surprised it’s talked about so much,” Khosravi Vafa said, despite protests against the compulsory veil that have reached more than 100 cities in Iran. “From our point of view it wasn’t a big issue.”
Khosravi Vava said he discussed rugby with IOC President Thomas Bach on Wednesday on the sidelines of the NOC’s General Assembly meeting in Seoul. Khosravi Vafa said he also spoke to Rekabi.
“I spoke to her and told her that you are definitely very talented in sports and you should continue on this path maybe to qualify for the Paris Olympics and you will have the full support of the Iranian Olympic Committee,” Khosravi Vafa said in his remarks. in Farsi.
On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee described Rikabi as having “returned to Iran in peace and with her family”.
But Khosravi Vafa described Rekabi as “a guest at the Iranian Olympic Committee hotel for a day with her family.” It was not clear if the passengers had a choice of accommodation. A photo published by Iranian state media showed a meeting hours after she returned to Tehran, wearing the same baseball cap and black hoodie she had worn after her flights.
Khosravi Vafa said Rekabi will return to her hometown on Thursday.
Khosravi Vafa did not specifically address suspicions that Iranian authorities confiscated Rikabi’s passport after the event in Seoul and forced her to leave early.
The non-hijab-wearing Rikabi rival, who has been protesting for weeks in the Islamic Republic, has been captured by protesters. Hundreds of people gathered outside Imam Khomeini International Airport upon her arrival, chanting for a woman they called “Elnaz the Hero” as the inspiration for their ongoing protests.
Asked if he had discussed the issue with Iranian delegates, Robin Mitchell, a Fijian sports official who was elected as the new NOC president at the assembly on Thursday, said they had not spoken and indicated he was not aware that the Iranians were at the meetings.
Iran has been gripped by protests across the country since the September 16 murder of 22-year-old Mehsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s morality police over her dress.
The demonstrations, which have prompted women to remove their headscarves in public, have drawn school-age children, oil workers and others into the streets, represent the most serious challenge facing Iran’s clerical regime since mass protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.
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