FIGHT& FLIGHT

Iran’s sportswomen face bul­ly­ing and prose­cu­tion for fol­low­ing their dreams. So some have taken to the streets to vent their ath­letic anger. Meet the park­our women of Iran – Per­sia's free-run­ning van­guard

Emirates Woman - - Features/theattractionequation - WRIT­TEN BY SEAN WIL­LIAMS IM­AGES BY SHAHIN KA­MALI

L ahi­jan is a small, bu­colic city on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It’s known for its rolling, leafy hills, tea, and, like most Per­sian cities, an an­cient his­tory rich of kings and bat­tles.

But there’s an­other bat­tle be­ing fought out on the streets of Lahi­jan. And while the blood­shed has been toned town, it could have far greater an ef­fect for the fu­ture of Iran’s most en­dan­gered people: its women.

Gilda is a 20-year-old stu­dent from the city. She doesn’t con­sider her­self a war­rior. But there are few soldiers who could per­form the phys­i­cal feats she does each day, in Lahi­jan’s parks and pub­lic spa­ces. Gilda is one of sev­eral hun­dred women across Iran who have taken up the sport of park­our, known world­wide as‘free-run­ning’. The con­cept is to tackle ob­sta­cles in the ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ment – walls, win­dows, steps – while car­ry­ing as much mo­men­tum as pos­si­ble. Think gym­nas­tics-meets-mar­tial-arts, and you’re not far off. Gilda learnt about the sport from satel­lite TV, which is il­le­gal but widely watched in Iran. Re­mem­ber that open­ing chase scene in Casino Royale? That’s park­our in ac­tion.

Ira­nian men face enough hur­dles. The women face two, far larger, oth­ers. Women are of­fi­cially al­lowed to prac­tise sports in the deeply con­ser­va­tive coun­try (ex­cept box­ing and wrestling). But Iran’s moral code for­bids them to wear any­thing con­sid­ered‘im­mod­est’, which throws most ath­letic pur­suits into the im­pos­si­ble. Take, for ex­am­ple, Elham As­ghari – a prodi­gious swim­mer who cranked out a 20km swim across the Caspian in eight hours, only to have her record torn up by the deputy sports min­is­ter, who claimed that he could see the ‘“fem­i­nine fea­tures” of her body as she rose from the wa­ter.

When Gilda prac­tices park­our she has to wear a head­scarf and a manto, a tra­di­tional Ira­nian tu­nic.“You have to worry about get­ting your manto caught on things and mak­ing you fall, so you can’t move quite as fast as boys,” she says.“But we have no other choice.”

Clothes aren’t even the worst of Gilda’s fears. She faces has­sle and bul­ly­ing from male com­peti­tors al­most daily. And women fear they could fall foul of Iran’s feared basiji, a net­work of vol­un­teer moral­ity po­lice.“(They could) ac­cuse us of copy­ing a Western fad,” she says. “We could also get in trou­ble for prac­tis­ing sports out­side des­ig­nated fa­cil­i­ties.”

Thank­fully, park­our is all about guile, speed and agility. Born on the streets of Paris the sport, whose name de­rives from the French term par­cours du com­bat­tant, a mil­i­tary ob­sta­cle course, park­our stresses a free­dom of ex­pres­sion, move­ment and syn­ergy with one’s lo­cal sur­round­ings be they the con­crete curves of a car park or ver­dant, sub­ur­ban gar­dens.“Ob­sta­cles are found every­where,” said park­our’s spir­i­tual founder David Belle,“and in over­com­ing them we nour­ish our­selves.”

In Iran, those ob­sta­cles run deep.

“In park­our, manequals

woman,” Mo­ham­mad Ja­vidi, park­our

prac­ti­tioner

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