Iranian female climber Elnaz Rekabi on way home after reports she had gone missing

Athlete says not wearing hijab 'was unintentional' as protests continue in Iran over death of a young woman in police custody

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A female Iranian climber posted an apology on social media on Tuesday after competing without a compulsory headscarf, while the sports federation said she was returning to Iran with the team following reports she had gone missing.

Elnaz Rekabi, 33, said her hijab had dropped by mistake and that she was returning home.

The statement on Rekabi's Instagram page said “not wearing my headscarf during the competition in Seoul was unintentional … there was poor scheduling and I was called to climb unpredictably”.

The statement apologised to the Iranian public for making them worried. Rekabi has not been seen in public since the statement was released.

A member of the Iranian Climbing Federation told The National that Rekabi is in “good health”.

“Elnaz is in a normal situation and she is on her way back to Iran, she is now in Doha as she took a transit flight from Seoul earlier today, she will landing back home later tonight,” said the member, who did not want to be named.

News that Rekabi went missing is “wrong information from the media we can confirm that she is in good health,” they added.

He declined to comment on whether Rekabi will face repercussions for not wearing the headscarf on her return home.

She was competing in an Asian championship while back home female-led demonstrations were taking place against Iran's clerical rulers over strict Islamic rules on women's attire.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said on Tuesday that they were monitoring the case of Rekabi.

“There is a lot of information in the public sphere regarding Elnaz Rekabi and as an organisation we have been trying to establish the facts,” the federation said.

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

Rekabi became the second Iranian athlete not to adhere to Tehran's strict dress code while representing her country at the championships in South Korean capital Seoul on Sunday.

She finished fourth in the event and made headlines around the world for not wearing the hijab.

The BBC earlier reported that sources close to Rekabi said they had been unable to contact her since Monday night.

Rekabi and the other Iranian athletes left the Garden Seoul Hotel on Monday morning.

Earlier on Tuesday, sources told BBC Persian that Rekabi's passport and mobile phone had been confiscated.

In a 2016 interview with Euronews, Rekabi spoke about wearing the headscarf in competitions.

“At the beginning, it was a little bizarre for the other athletes, who were curious about a girl wearing a scarf on her head and an outfit that covered the arms and legs while competing inside in such a hot temperature,” she said.

“For sure, when it's hot the hijab becomes a problem.”

Rekabi won a bronze medal for boulder climbing at last year's competition. She has won more than 80 medals in her career.

Her decision to compete without the hijab comes amid mass anti-government protests that have rocked Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of the morality police in Tehran on September 16.

She had been held three days earlier for wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Human rights groups estimate at least 230 people have been killed in the subsequent unrest, including 32 minors.

In 2019, boxer Sadaf Khadem became both the first Iranian woman to win a boxing match, and the first to compete without a headscarf.

She cancelled her return flight to Tehran after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

Updated: October 18, 2022, 2:09 PM
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