Indian sharpshooter boycotts Iran tournament over compulsory hijab law

Indian shooter Heena Sidhu. © Iindranil Mukherje
Indian sport shooter Heena Sidhu has chosen to boycott the Asian Airgun Shooting Championship in the Iranian capital of Tehran due to the country’s requirement that all female competitors wear a hijab.

The 27-year-old explained her stance in a series of posts to her Twitter account, in which she said: “I’m not a revolutionary. But I feel dat (sic) making it mandatory for even a sportsperson to wear hijab is not in the spirit of a sport.”

Iran has been under the auspices of a Muslim government since an Islamic revolution in the country in 1979. The hijab is a legal requirement for all Iranian women in accordance with the Muslim religion, which forbids women from showing their arms and legs or hair. Failure to comply could result in arrest, fines or reprimands.

The withdrawal represents a major statement against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in professional sports as Sidhu is considered one of the best athletes in her field.

A gold medalist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and again at last year’s Asian Shooting Championships in Kuwait, Sidhu is also the first Indian pistol shooter to be ranked number one in the world by the International Sports Shooting Federation (ISSF).

Sidhu also thanked the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) for respecting her views and told the Indian team competing in Iran to "concentrate on [the] competition rather [than] hijab."

Earlier in October, the Russian women’s national mini-football team wore hijabs during a two-game friendly tour of Iran “out of respect for the Muslim religion.”

Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy donned the hijab at the Rio 2016 Olympics in a match against Germany, following a decision by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) to relax its dress codes for the London 2012 Olympic Games to include head scarves and trousers to “open [volleyball] up culturally.”

But despite some hailing the acceptance of the hijab as progressive, Sidhu isn’t the first sportswoman to protest against the compulsory wearing of the headdress.

In September, female chess players accused the World Chess Federation (FIDE) of "failing to stand up for women's rights" after it said competitors must accept local law and wear hijabs during the world championship in Tehran.

The decision to hold the tournament in the Iranian capital drew a backlash from leading grandmasters. US women’s champion Nazi Paikidze boycotted the event, stating she believed it "unacceptable to host a WOMEN'S World Championship” where women are deemed “second-class citizens.”

READ MORE: Obligation to wear hijab at chess worlds in Iran sparks controversy

Iran also attracted controversy when campaigner Darya Safai bore a flag with the message “Let Iranian women into their stadiums” at a men’s volleyball match involving Iran at the Rio Olympics.

Women are banned from attending football and volleyball matches in Iran, which is an attempt to enforce further strict interpretations of Islam at social gatherings.

READ MORE: Olympic security tell Iranian women’s rights activist to take down equality banner

Team USA fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first ever American to compete in a hijab at the Olympics when she wore the garment at the Rio 21016 Games, where she won a bronze medal.

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