The Iranian athlete who made history after appearing without a hijab in an international competition arrived in Tehran Wednesday morning.
Elnaz Rekabi received a jubilant welcome on her return as hundreds of people gathered at Imam Khomeini international airport outside Tehran.
Videos showed crowds chanting the 33-year-old’s name and calling her a national hero.
Rekabi broke the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic when she competed in an international climbing competition in South Korea. The hijab is mandatory for Iranian women in sports competitions, and Rekabi’s failure to wear one in Seoul was widely taken as a very public display of support for the protests in Iran which were sparked by the death of a women detained for not wearing her hijab correctly on the streets of Tehran.
#ElnazRekabi is a national hero. The rock climber who didn't wear a scarf in a competition has been forced to apologize on state TV. But acting against the regime's orders publicly has made her a hero for thousands of Iranians who greeted her this morning at Tehran airport pic.twitter.com/8uLs3aiv3C— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) October 19, 2022
It was feared Rekabi had been punished by the Iranian authorities when she disappeared a day after competing and her family and friends were unable to contact her. Her family, meanwhile, had not received news about her brother, Davood Rekabi, after he was summoned to an intelligence agency office.
However, Rekabi posted an apology on her Instagram yesterday morning in which she said her hijab dropped by mistake. Many observers saw the post as suspicious or forced.
She was filmed by state television at the airport in Tehran and repeated what she posted on Instagram, that appearing without her hijab was “unintentional” and her travel had been as previously planned.
“Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, I forgot to put on my hijab and then I went to compete,” she said on state TV. “I returned to Iran with peace of mind although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened.”
It was unclear where Rekabi went after arriving in Iran.
Last year, Rekabi became the first Iranian woman to win a medal at the sport climbing world championships. She finished fourth at last weekend's event in South Korea.