Iran president, clerics battle over women’s sports

Filed on December 6, 2010

TEHERAN, Iran - A senior Muslim cleric has denounced the participation of Iranian women in the Asian Games, calling it a humiliation and saying women’s sports are a product of the West’s “dirty” culture that should be shunned.

As he has done in the past, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the opposite view — one shared by most Iranians — and praised female athletes from Iran who won medals in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, which took place in November.

Iran’s strict Islamic rules forbid physical contact between unrelated men and women, and Iranian women are even barred from attending soccer games in which men’s teams are playing.

Although Iranian female athletes take part only in games where there is no physical contact with men, clerics are still opposed.

Iran won 59 medals — 20 gold, 14 silver and 25 bronze — in this year’s Asian Games. Iran’s female athletes won 14 medals, including one gold.

Ahmadinejad praised Iranian female athletes who took part in the Games, saying the government would do what it could to support female athletes in hopes of winning more medals next time.

“We need to plan from now so that, God willing, ... our girls will collect all the gold medals,” Ahmadinejad told the returning athletes Sunday.

Unlike his fellow hard-liners, Ahmadinejad — an ardent soccer fan who once donned a jersey and kicked some balls with the national team — is a supporter of women participating in sports.

In 2006, Ahmadinejad surprised his conservative backers by deciding that women could attend soccer games, but he later gave in to pressure from clerics and dropped that effort.

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