The Iranian athlete who made history after appearing without a hijab at an international sports competition was questioned by two of Iran’s political and sports institutions, IranWire can reveal, when she returned to the country today. Friends of the athlete have also told IranWire that she has not answered their calls since returning to Iran early this morning and that she has not been to her parent’s Zanjan home.
Elnaz Rekabi, 33, made headlines on Sunday when she competed at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championship in Seoul, South Korea, without her state-mandated headscarf.
But minutes after her return to Iran on Wednesday morning, while wearing a hat and hoodie instead of a headscarf, Rekabi appeared before state television cameras repeating what had previously been published on an Instagram story on her own account; namely, that she had "accidentally forgotten the mandatory hijab".
“Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, it caused me to forget to put on my hijab and then I went to compete,” she told Iran’s news media.
“I came back to Iran with peace of mind, although I had a lot of tension and stress,” Rekabi added. “But so far, thank God, nothing has happened. I apologize to the people of Iran because of the stress created,” saying that she had “no plan” to leave the national climbing team, which would have been a consequence of competing without her hijab.
Rekabi’s denials notwithstanding, she received a jubilant welcome on her return at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, as hundreds of people gathered and chanted her name while calling her a national hero. The crowd apparently intended to keep her safe from arrest.
A few hours later, pictures of Rekabi standing next to Hamid Sajjadi, Iran’s Minister of Sports and Youth, were published. Her brother Davoud Rekabi was also present. IranWire sources have said that Elnaz Rekabi did not go home from the airport and instead was whisked to meetings with Sajjadi and with a sports official.
Minutes after the pictures with Sajjadi went viral, at about 415pm Tehran time, some social media users praised Rekabi for “not wearing the hijab required by the Islamic Republic” even during her meeting with the minister. But while she was not wearing a scarf or veil, she was wearing a hat, so her hair was covered.
Observers have also asked why Rekabi needed to meet the Minister of Sports after travelling from South Korea without first even changing her clothes. And her brother Davoud was wearing a yellow shirt and a white vest at the meeting – just as he had been dressed at the airport when he went to meet his sister.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing has been informed that Rekabi was summoned to the Ministry of Sports and Youth, IranWire can report, and has contacted the ministry regarding her safety.
One IranWire source, who had previously said that Rekabi was tricked or forced to enter the Iranian embassy in Seoul, and that her brother Davoud had been summoned by the security agencies, told IranWire that Rekabi did not go to her home in Tehran or to her family home in Zanjan. The source added that Rekabi had previously been promised that she would be able to go straight home to Zanjan to see her family.
The IranWire source added that there was no information about where Rekabi had been taken after her arrival in Tehran and before 9am, when she met Sajjadi. But people close to her say that, before going to the Ministry of Sports, she was forced to visit Iran’s National Olympic Committee and to meet with its president Mahmoud Khosravivafa. Reports suggest Khosravivafa had been tasked by the Revolutionary Guards with luring Rekabi to the embassy and then back to Iran.
No details are available on what was discussed during Rekabi’s meeting with Khosravivafa. Photos of the meeting were apparently taken but have not been published. Rekabi’s friends and family told IranWire they are still afraid she may be arrested and that the photos could be used in an attempt to say that Rekabi was free from arrest.
Khosravivafa, for his part, was a bodyguard in the 1980s for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current supreme leader.