Climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi is welcomed as a hero in Tehran

Climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi is welcomed as a hero in Tehran

The people to greet his gesture… And perhaps also so that nothing happens to him, once he sets foot in his country. The Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi, who on Sunday had participated without a veil in the Asian climbing championships in South Korea, returned to Tehran on Wednesday, received as a heroine by her supporters at the airport. Her participation in the competition without a veil had been interpreted as a gesture of solidarity with the demonstrations unleashed a month ago by the death of the young Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the anti-vice brigade.

Elnaz Rekabi, 33, arrived at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on Wednesday morning, according to a video released by the official Iranian news agency Irna. “Elnaz is a heroine,” shouted dozens of people crowded in front of the airport terminal to welcome the young woman to applause and cheers, brandishing mobile phones to film the scene, as a BBC journalist specializing in Iran.

The crowd, including unveiled women, then surrounded a white van and a car where the athlete and members of her team were sitting, who left the airport, still to applause, for an unknown destination.

Isn’t that a political gesture?

Dressed in a black hooded jacket and baseball cap, Elnaz Rekabi was greeted at the terminal by her relatives before speaking to the media. “Because of the climate that prevailed during the finals of the competition and the fact that I was called to start when I did not expect it, I found myself entangled in my technical team (…). Because of that, I did not pay attention to the scarf that I should have used,” she said.

“I returned to Iran in peace, in perfect health and according to the planned program. I apologize to the Iranian people for the tensions created,” he said, adding that he had “no intention of saying goodbye to the national team.”

Elnaz Rekabi during the Asian Championships, October 18, 2022.
Elnaz Rekabi during the Asian Championship, October 18, 2022. – AFP

The Islamic Republic has been repeatedly accused by human rights defenders of provoking forced confessions or statements on television or on social media. Already on Tuesday, the athlete had presented on her Instagram account, with more than 200,000 subscribers, “apologies for the concern” that it may have caused and assured that the decision to remove the veil “was not intentional” but motivated by the call. her to test ahead of schedule.

Sport, a sensitive topic in Iran

Human rights defenders outside Iran expressed concern about her fate, with several of her friends saying they were unable to contact her. The Iranian embassy in Seoul denied “all false information and misinformation” about her situation, saying that she had left South Korea with her companions on Tuesday.

Elnaz Rekabi wore a bandana during the bouldering event and a headband showing off her hair during a second event, according to footage released by the International Climbing Federation. Sport has become an extremely sensitive issue in Iran since these protests, with several prominent Iranian female athletes speaking out for women’s rights. Famous soccer players have also come under fire for comments on the move, such as soccer legend Ali Daei, who briefly had his passport confiscated.

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