Elnaz Rekabi: Iranian climber appears to imply support for protesters

Rageh Omaar has the latest on the protests, which have lasted for 40 days

An Iranian climber who briefly disappeared after competing while not wearing a compulsory headscarf, has appeared to endorse widespread women's rights protests in the country.

Elnaz Rekabi posted an Instagram story that demonstrators took as implicit support for the protests sweeping Iran.

The climber posted an Instagram story showing a graphic of Mahsa Amini, who died in Iranian authorities' custody, with a message saying: "These days my heroes are people who pay a heavy price to have a normal life."

"Having a safe, normal and free life is the right of all human beings," she added.

Mahsa, 22, died on 16 September while being held by authorities for violating the country's strictly enforced Islamic dress code.

Outrage at her death triggered weeks-long protests across Iran and the rest of the world.

Rekabi, 33, then competed on October 16 without her headscarf, or hijab, in Seoul during the finals of the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship.

She was immediately embraced by those supporting the anti-headscarf demonstrations in her country, that are increasingly focusing on calls for the overthrow of the country’s theocracy.

Ms Rekabi wrote this message on her Instagram story on Wednesday Credit: Instagram

In an impassive interview before leaving the airport terminal, she told Iranian state television that competing without her hair covered was “unintentional.”

In an earlier Instagram post, Rekabi said she was “endlessly grateful for the support of you, all the people of Iran, the most decent people of the planet, athletes and non athletes, and all your supports in international community.”

Her Instagram story captures the first time the athlete has openly implied her support for the protests.

Sports in Iran, from soccer leagues to Rekabi’s competitive climbing, broadly operate under a series of semi-governmental organisations.

Women athletes competing at home or abroad, whether playing volleyball or running track, are expected to keep their hair covered as a sign of piety.

Iran makes such head coverings mandatory for women, as does Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing, the government body, said it has assurances that Rekabi “will not suffer any consequences and will continue to train and compete.”

Neither the IOC nor the climbing federation has said how it will track how Rekabi is treated in Iran.

Rekabi's post will also provide some reassurance for the world's top climbers, some of whom said they had not received any word from the athlete since her return to Iran.

“It has made me ill — nauseous,” said American Brooke Raboutou on Friday at a World Cup climbing event in Japan.

“I support her 100 percent and I’d like to think I can speak on behalf of most of the athletes,” she added.

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