athletics throws itself into the Asian Championships
Dinesh Weerawansa for the IAAF
10 August 2002 - Colombo, Sri Lanka - When Parisa Behzadi competes in the shot put competition on Monday she will make Asian Athletic Championship history. She will become the first ever Iranian female athlete to compete at the championships.
However, despite common misconceptions this does not represent a revolutionary change of policy, but a reflection of natural developments within Iran.
There is a common misconception that Islamic law prevents or restricts the development of female athletes, however, this is contradicted by the appearance of increasing numbers of not just athletes but sportswomen from many fields and many Muslim nations.
Behzadi told the 'Daily News' in her first interview of the championships that there is a thriving women's sports and athletics scene in Iran. At the Asian Games Iran will be entering female competitors in events including shooting, rowing, taikwondo and karate.
The White Revolution of 1979 in Iran is widely regarded as a backlash against the open disrespect of the Shah for Islamic culture and his over zealous embrace of modern western values and practices, resulting in a resurgence of religious values and the dominance of Islamic law. However, despite an initial surge of religious fundamentalism, since the early 1980s Iran has become progressively more liberal.
The current administration led by reformist President Mohammed Khatami has given voice to a natural development arising from the public of Iran. It is possible that the benefits of this are being reflected within the emergence of female sportswomen and athletes from Iran.
However, Behzadi sees her participation in these championships not as a sociologically or historically significant event but purely as a sign of her own achievement, as well as a result of improved coaching techniques under foreign guidance.
Although there are some restrictions in sprint events due to the requirement to cover their bodies and hair this does not apply to the majority of events. These measures are not seen as a deprivation of rights or a disadvantage by Behzadi but more as a natural sign of respect for the basic principles of her culture and religion.
Behzadi comes from a family with a strong sporting heritage, her father was the national judo coach and her brother a champion wrestler in Britain. Although her specialist sport at university was Basketball she found that the opportunities to advance to an international level were restricted within its parameters, so four years ago she decided to focus on shot put.
Behzadi's role model is American athlete Marion Jones, however, she will not be attempting any world records at this meet but stated that she would be happy if she could improve her own personal best of 14.05 metres and possibly challenge for a medal.
It does not seem likely that anyone here, including favourite Cheng Xiaoyan of the Peoples Republic of China whose personal best is 18.78 metres, will challenge the championships record of 19.69 metres set by Huang Zhihong of China in 1989.
Iranian team coach Mirzaei Azibuah expressed great confidence in his team saying, "Although this is a small team it is the best we have had for more than 20 years and I hope to challenge for medals in many events."
Mahdi Jeloodarzadehsdei, who won the 800 metres gold medal in the Asian games two years ago and was the only Iranian representative at the last Olympics, is expected to capture a medal. The discus competition, 5,000 and 10,000 metres and steeplechase are also seen as opportunities.