A number of Iranian female billiard players have been banned for a year from competitions for allegedly “violating the Islamic code of conduct” while competing in China, Iran’s Bowling and Billiards Federation announced on March 30, 2017.
The announcement did not indicate how many women have been banned or identify them by name. Nor did it explain where and when they competed in China or why they were being penalized.
Iranian authorities have penalized female athletes in the past for participating in international competitions without the hijab, the head-to-toe Shia-Islamic dress code that all women are legally required to observe in public.
In February 2017, 18-year-old female chess player, Dorsa Derakhshani, was expelled from Iran’s national team for not wearing the hijab when she competed at an international chess match in Gibraltar.
“The players who don’t observe the hijab will be immediately banned from all competitions inside Iran and will never represent Iran in the national team,” said Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, the head of the country’s Chess Federation, on February 21.
Iranian authorities have also detained female athletes for sharing allegedly revealing photos on social media.
In September 2016, two unnamed female bodybuilders were summoned to court and banned from future sporting events for posting what officials described as “half-naked images” of themselves online.
“The Bodybuilding Federation does not have any program for women,” said the federation’s president, Nasser Pouralifard, on September 26. “We believe this sport is not suitable for women.”
After Iran’s 1979 revolution, women were banned from taking part in international sports competitions for more than a decade. A little over a decade later, Iranian women shooters became the first female athletes to represent post-revolutionary Iran in an international competition in the 1990 Asian Games.
In 1996, shooter Lida Fariman became the first Iranian woman to participate in the Olympics from the Islamic Republic.
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Iranian women competed in taekwondo, rowing, track and field (shot put), table tennis, shooting and archery. In regional qualifying Olympic competition rounds, women also competed in other categories including tennis and wushu martial arts. In every instance, women wore the state-enforced Islamic hijab.
Conservative and hardline religious figures have increasingly criticized women’s participation in sports even though Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a conservative himself, has described it as “important and valuable with the observance of the Islamic hijab and chastity.”
Several senior theologians in Qom, Friday prayer leaders, and politicians have also stressed that women’s first responsibility is to their family, and have chided female participation in international competitions, at times describing it as scandalous.
“There’s no virtue in our girls and women getting medals for us by throwing their legs in the air and striking another athlete,” said Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, a senior Qom-based theologian, in a lecture on October 8, 2014. “What direction are we headed in?”