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Iranian Female Basketball Coach Finds Success in Qatar

January 14, 2021
Payam Younesipour
6 min read
Naeemeh Zafar, a basketball coach and reporter who chaired the Training Committee of the Iranian Basketball Federation until December 2018.
Naeemeh Zafar, a basketball coach and reporter who chaired the Training Committee of the Iranian Basketball Federation until December 2018.
Zafar has now became the head coach of Qatar’s national seniors team, the under-23 team and its three-women team.
Zafar has now became the head coach of Qatar’s national seniors team, the under-23 team and its three-women team.
Zafar had previously reported live on the Iranian Basketball League competitions for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting corporation.
Zafar had previously reported live on the Iranian Basketball League competitions for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting corporation.
Zafar told IranWire in January 2018 that she had registered for the candidacy of president of the Basketball Federation to prove that basketball was not a masculine sport.
Zafar told IranWire in January 2018 that she had registered for the candidacy of president of the Basketball Federation to prove that basketball was not a masculine sport.

Naeemeh Zafar, a basketball coach and reporter who chaired the Training Committee of the Iranian Basketball Federation until December 2018, has now became the head coach of Qatar’s national seniors team, the under-23 team and its three-women team.

Zafar had previously reported live on the Iranian Basketball League competitions for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting corporation. She told IranWire in January 2018 that she had registered for the candidacy of president of the Basketball Federation to prove that basketball was not a masculine sport. A week later, however, she resigned.

IranWire spoke with Naeemeh Zafar – Iran’s first woman to head an adult national basketball team abroad. And although her career was stymied in Iran, in Qatar, Zafar has been able to take over the leadership of the national women's teams.

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You were the chair of the training committee for Iran’s Basketball Federation, but after resigning, you went to Qatar and then returned to Iran. Now you have been introduced as the head coach of the seniors' national team in Qatar, the under-23s and Qatar's Hopes. Why Qatar? How did this come about?

I went to Doha two years ago for a probationary period. At that time, the only plan was to work with the under-23 team. The probationary period lasted until the outbreak of coronavirus started last year and travel became difficult. But I noticed two changes; the first is that Qatar’s Basketball Federation was no longer a party to my contract, that is, now the Qatar Olympic Committee had prepared my contract. And then they told me that my role in Qatar should not be limited to the under-23 team.

You had similar plans in Iran but you eventually resigned from the Basketball Federation citing the "lack of transparency in the work of the committee and department," and "restrictions on the activities of the training sector." You also mentioned the "involvement of other colleagues in the decisions of the president of the Federation" and the lack of support for your plans.

It is not just a matter of the Basketball Federation. When I was running the "Sports World" program on Radio Varzesh, all I could think about was how different, useful and effective we were. I took the idea of ​​a live basketball match report to Mr. Hamid Ghasemi, then the head of Radio Varzesh. Despite all the opposition, Hamid Ghasemi stood by me and I made the live reports. My whole life was spent playing basketball. I hope Iranian girls and women do not get upset by my remarks. We have all been chanting beautiful slogans in praise of ‘feminism’ for a lifetime, but when it comes down to it, we shoot the shadow of every other woman. After reporting on the basketball game, I felt that many women basketball players, whether as coaches, players, reporters or reporters, had found a foreign enemy.

You asked what plans I gave to the Qataris? I handed over every program that I gave to the Qatar Federation to Mr. [Ramin] Tabatabai [head of the Basketball Federation] a few years ago, when I was the chairman of the training committee. But some people's aspirations are low. I always say that you can be a good employee, but it is impossible to want to be an employee and a good leader. Mr. Tabatabai was not a leader for the Basketball Federation, he was an employee. He just wanted to stay in his post. People wrote: why should Naeemeh Zafar, who is single and unmarried, be the head of a committee in the Federation?! They reduced my salary; I did not protest. My meetings with the national team coach were cancelled. I wanted to hold a coaching class but they did not agree.

The only reason they did not want to accept my plans was because they did not understand basketball. But they also had no plans of their own. Iranian basketball, the way it has been managed over the last four years, has fallen 40 years behind. I fought as much as I could fight. One day I felt that the world of the Iranian Basketball Federation was too small for me. And then, when I went to Serbia to get my coaching card, a Serbian woman met with me; when she heard my plans and views, she introduced me to the Qatar Federation. When they heard my ideas they told me to work with three teams at the same time.

What are your goals for the three Qatari teams?

We did not talk specifically about results. In all our meetings we talked about building. First of all, the Qataris said they need coaches, so the first program is to train the coaches of the basic teams, which is my specialty. The second is to train Qatari players for the Qatari national teams. They emphasized this need. You know that Qatar has been planning to attract sports talent from other countries for years. But I was told that they want Qatari players for the Qatari national team.

You are an expert at scouting talent – and it seemed that a sparsely populated country like Qatar was looking for American or Serbian stars to adopt Qatari nationality and to play for its national basketball team.

As I entered into negotiations with Qatar, to coach the under-23 and core teams, I handed them a plan to show that they could plan to recruit professional players from schoolchildren and teens over three years. I found that many children and teenagers studying in Qatar will get Qatari passports in the coming years and become citizens. The Qatar Federation welcomed the plan. I did the same thing in Iranian basketball since 2007 – and some of those individuals are now players of the Iranian national basketball team.

Does this mean that the plan to attract stars and change nationality in the case of Qatari basketball has been canceled?

The first issue is that the Qatar Federation is reluctant to attract foreign female basketball stars to the Qatari league. Not that we do not have them; we already have some good American and European women in the Qatar League. But for the national team, they have no plans to attract stars at the moment. What they told me was that we should build a Qatari team.

How do you see your future in basketball coaching?

I have a role model, Becky Heman, the first female American National Basketball Association coach. I obviously do not want to be the head coach of a men's basketball team in America next year. First, I think of the platform [for my career] in Asia, then in the world, and if all goes well, in a few years, I will be known as a "builder". What I see in Qatar is the best opportunity for progress. I have never done anything but basketball in my life. Basketball is the international language of us all. You do not need politics or religion in basketball. We talk about sports and we live. In Qatar, I feel there are the right conditions for me to live with basketball; as I wish.

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