Imagine being an athlete at the top of your field and not being recognized by the authorities for your accomplishments simply because you are a woman. This is the problem faced by Elham Asghari, a 32-year-old swimmer in Iran, who isn’t having her records recorded by the country’s sports ministry. In fact, just last month, Iran refused to acknowledge Asghari’s recent 20 kilometer swim in the Caspian Sea. Why? Because when she emerged from the water after the swim on a women-only beach, her figure was still “visible” underneath her six kilos-worth of body-covering swimsuit paraphernalia.
Women athletes in Iran are expected to practice separately from men; for swimmers, this means swimming in women-only pools. They are not supposed to swim in competitions abroad so that they aren’t seen by men while wearing their swimsuits. But Asghari, the news site France 24 explains, prefers to swim in the sea and must do so on all-women beaches. When she swims, she has to wear a diving suit, a full jacket, and a head scarf. That’s what she was wearing during her recent Caspian Sea swim, which Iran’s sports ministry has refused to recognize because her suit was “religiously illegal,” i.e. they don’t think her body was covered up enough.
Clearly they’re trying to disuade her from doing what she loves. The only record the sports ministry has recognized from Elham Asghari is a 12-kilometer swim back in 2008. A friend of Asghari’s also claimed to France 24 that back in 2010, a police boat rammed into her during a swim, causing Asghari’s hip to be “lacerated by boat propellers.” But Elham Asghari refuses to be discouraged by the conservatives in Iran who say swimming is not appropriate for women. In this English-subtitled YouTube video, she talks about how swimming in her six-kilo swimsuit is painful. But she refuses to give up her passion and insists women can swim, too.
We have so much respect for you, Elham Asghari! Don’t let your repressive government stop from doing what you love.