Whereabouts of Iran athlete uncertain after Seoul competition
An Iranian sport climber reportedly went missing Sunday after competing in the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asian Championships in Seoul.
Elnaz Rekabi competed last week without wearing a hijab, violating a rule in Iran that its female citizens wear hijabs in public spaces and when representing the country overseas. Rekabi competed in three events at the Asian Championship in Seoul, finishing ninth in women’s lead, eighth in boulder and fourth in combined lead and boulder.
Rekabi’s friends couldn’t reach her starting Sunday night, according to a BBC report Monday. An additional source told the BBC that Rekabi’s passport and phone were confiscated.
The Iranian Embassy in Seoul denied that Rekabi was missing and said she left Korea for Iran on Tuesday morning.
“Ms. Elnaz Rekabi, who has participated in the final round of the Asian Climbing Competitions in Seoul, departed from Seoul to Iran, early morning of October 18, 2022, along with the other members of the Team,” said the embassy in a statement on Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry in Seoul said it is looking into the matter and that no further information about the athlete could be shared as of press time on Tuesday.
Rekabi is the top Iranian women’s sport climber, competing predominantly in the lead and bouldering disciplines. She is the only Iranian female climber ever to win a medal at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships, taking bronze in the women’s combined event last year.
She is not the first among Iranian female athletes to disobey the hijab rule. Boxer Sadaf Khadem competed without a hijab in 2019. After the competition, the Iranian authorities reportedly issued an arrest warrant, and Khadem didn’t return home, although recently she has told media outlets that her exile was only for a year and that she is “voluntarily” staying in France.
Iran’s treatment of women has been protested nationwide by both women and men since the death of an Iranian woman arrested in Tehran last month for allegedly violating the hijab rule.
Iranian residents in Korea have held rallies in Seoul in recent weeks, including on Teheran Street in southern Seoul and in front of the Iranian Embassy in Seoul. Some of the protests were joined by Koreans.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]