An eminent Iranian cleric has said female athletes should not compete in sporting events abroad -- days after the Islamic Republic sent its biggest female contingent in recent years to the Asian Games, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.
Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani said on November 30 that sending Iranian female athletes to international events is a "disgrace" and should not be allowed.
His comments come after Iran sent 88 sportswomen to China to take part in last month's 2010 Asian Games -- the biggest contingent since the 1979 Revolution. More than a dozen won medals, including Khadijeh Azadpour, who won a gold medal in the women's Wushu competition.
Golpayegani, 91, a Shi'ite source of emulation in the holy city of Qom, is not the first conservative cleric to deplore the participation of female Iranian athletes in foreign competitions.
Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayer leader in Mashhad, argued in 2008 that sending Iranian sportswomen to the Beijing Olympic Games and choosing a female rower, Homa Hossein, to carry the Iranian flag at the opening ceremony constituted "waging war on Islamic values."
Denmark-based sports analyst Mehdi Rostampour told Radio Farda that the authorities are concerned by the Iranian women's success in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou.
Ayatollah Abbas Kabi, a member of the Society of Qom Seminary Teachers, criticized Iranian state television for showing women competing in the event. He said it was "deplorable" and "bizarre."
Analyst Rostampour added that the authorities are worried that they will no longer be able to prevent female Iranian athletes from participating in international events: "They want to uproot this young plant before it grows." Read more in Persian here and here.