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Concern over the whereabouts of Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi

There are growing concerns over Iranian sport climber Elnaz Rekabi, after she competed in the Asian Sport Climbing Championships in Seoul, South Korea.

Rekabi took part in the competition last Sunday, and protested against Iran’s dress code by choosing to do so without wearing a hijab.

The 33-year-old climber finished fourth in the championships and was praised by other Iranians, with many in the Middle Eastern country currently protesting against the enforced dress code.

However, since the competition, friends and family have lost contact with the 2021 world championship bronze medalist, with concerns over her whereabouts increasing.

Rekabi climbing in the 2019 World Championships. Image: Alamy
Rekabi climbing in the 2019 World Championships. Image: Alamy

BBC’s Persian service reports that friends have been unable to contact her since Sunday and that she was on her way back to Tehran with an Iranian official.

World Service presenter, and Iran Specialist, Rana Rahimpour took to social media to say, “BBC Persian has learned that #Iranian sport climber Elnaz Rekabi, 33,who competed without the Islamic headscarf at the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday has gone missing.

“The night manager at Seoul Garden Hotel has told BBC Persian that the team has checked out earlier today. The team was meant to return to Tehran this Wednesday.

“A source has told the BBC Persian that Elnaz’s passport and mobile phone have been confiscated.”

A post appeared on Rekabi’s social media, where she appeared to apologise for competing without her hijab, claiming it was only an ‘accident,’ that she didn’t wear it.

“I apologise about what I did to make you worry,” the post said, “There was poor scheduling and I was called her to climb unpredictably.”

The post on Rekabi's social media. Image: Instagram
The post on Rekabi’s social media. Image: Instagram

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) also released an official statement about Rekabi’s whereabouts, saying, “There is a lot of information in the public sphere regarding Ms Rekabi and as an organisation we have been trying to establish the facts.

“We have also been in contact with Ms Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation.

“Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival. It is important to stress that athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation.

“The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech.”

Women in Iran are required to cover their arms and legs with clothing and their hair using a hijab and athletes representing the country are meant to do so even when abroad.

There have been widespread protests in the country following the death of 22-year-old school teacher Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for not wearing a hijab.

Iran’s footballers recently protested during the national anthem ahead of their game with Senegal, as players wore black jackets to cover up the country’s national crest on their shirts.

They are set to face England in the group stages of the World Cup next month, as well as USMNT and Wales.

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