Iran says climber Elnaz Rekabi will not be punished

The head of Iran’s Olympic Committee, Mahmoud Khosravi Vafa, said on Thursday that climber Elnaz Rekabi would not be punished or suspended for competing without a headscarf in South Korea.

On Sunday, Rekabi competed in the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship without a hijab. She said that her hijab had accidentally fallen off.

Rekabi’s supporters are concerned for her safety after other athletes have been targeted by the government for supporting the country’s prolonged anti-government protests.

More than 200 people have already been killed and thousands arrested in a continuing crackdown on dissent, activists say.

Khosravi Vafa told AP that there was no justification for punishing Rekabi because not wearing her hijab was an “unintentional” blunder.

An Instagram account linked to Rekabi described the incident as “unintentional.” Upon returning to Tehran early on Wednesday, she reinforced her initial statement, stating that she was in a rush to begin climbing.

A video recorded during the competition on Sunday, however, showed her relaxed and waving to the crowd.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif welcomes Elnaz Rekabi upon her arrival in Tehran.

Despite the presence of more than 100 cities in Iran where the hijab is being protested, Mr. Khosravi Vafa thinks it is a ‘small issue’. He is surprised that the issue is getting so much attention. ‘It was not a big issue in our view,’ he said.

Khosravi Vafa said he spoke with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach about the incident on Wednesday at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Seoul. He also spoke with Rekabi, he said.

It surprised me that it was being discussed so much … Our view was that it wasn’t a big issue.”

“I assured her that you are an excellent athlete and that you should continue down this path to become a part of the Iranian Olympic team. She fully supports your participation in the Paris Olympics.”

The International Olympic Committee stated on Wednesday that Rekabi had “returned to Iran safely and with her family”.

According to Mr Khosravi Vafa, Rekabi was “a guest at Iran’s Olympic committee hotel for one day, along with her family”. It is not known whether Rekabi had a choice in staying there.

State media published a picture of her in a conference hours after returning to Tehran wearing the same black baseball cap and jacket she had worn after her flights.

Rekabi will return to her home town tomorrow, Mr Khosravi Vafa said.

Hundreds of individuals congregated outside Imam Khomeini International Airport to welcome “Elnaz the Champion” upon her arrival.

Robin Mitchell, the new president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, said he had not discussed the issue with Iranian delegates at the assembly on Thursday, and indicated that he was not aware of any Iranian representatives were present.

Khosravi Vafa did not address the rumours that Iranian authorities seized Rekabi’s passport after the event in Seoul and forced her to leave early.

Nationwide protests have been occurring in Iran since September 16, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being detained by the country’s morality police for wearing allegedly inappropriate clothing.

Image Credit: AP