Elham Asghari is an Iranian swimmer who began swimming at the age of five. She holds several national open-water swimming records. Elham swims wearing a full-body swimsuit she designed that fully adheres to Iran’s Islamic dress code for women. She says the suit hinders her performance and causes her pain, adding a hefty six kilograms to her weight in water. Still she wears it in order to pursue her lifelong dream of being an open-water swimmer.
Achieving that dream has not been without its challenges for Elham. In Iran women are only allowed to swim in gender-segregated pools and are banned from participating in international swimming competitions. During a previous open-water record-attempt, Iranian police chased Elham in a boat in order to stop her from swimming. The propellers on the police boat sliced her legs and hip.
Elham broke her previous 20km open-water record, in June of 2013, by completing a swim in the Caspian Sea in just over eight hours. She swam in a private, women-only beach to avoid another run in with the police. Yet, Iranian officials have refused to recognize her record, stating that her swimming costume, which she had worn when setting her previous records, was illegal because “the feminine characteristics of her body were visible when she came out of the water.”
As an Iranian-American woman living in the United States, I feel it is my duty to raise the publics’ awareness on the issue at hand. I’m asking the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to require the Iranian Swimming Federation to register the record Elham Asghari rightfully earned.
Elham Asghari is a talented, accomplished athlete who has worked tirelessly as an open-water swimmer. She continues to face obstacles and challenges that most athletes would never have to deal with on a daily basis. Like any other athlete she deserves to be recognized for her accomplishments. Please join me in asking FINA to help get Elham’s record recognized.
Officials at the Ministry of Sports told her that no matter how Islamic her clothing was during her swim, the registration of her record, as far they were concerned, would be un-Islamic and contrary to Sharia. In interviews Elham Saadat Asghari has explained her situation as follows, “My swim clothes were as heavy as an astronaut’s uniform, but I had no other choice. If they ask Mr. Rezazadeh [weightlifting champion] to wear a similar outfit with the same weight, while lifting weights, he would bid farewell to weightlifting, forever.”
The 32-year-old swimming champion and record holder stressed that swimming a 20-kilometer distance, given the circumstances was not an easy feat, and that she cannot simply forget that she had broken a record. She went on to say, “When I swim for hours in the ocean and refuse to succumb to the waves, it is difficult for me to succumb to the personal decisions and beliefs of officials. For this reason I will continue to press for my legal rights. The record was achieved fairly and legally and it has to be registered.” Although many female athletes are active in this sport, none of them are allowed to participate in international games. Even the webpage dedicated to women on the website of the IRSF (Islamic Republic of Iran Swimming Federation) is still under construction.
That’s why I ask you, FINA to urge IRSF officials recognize and register this unique swimming record and give a clear explanation of this gender based discrimination, in support of Elham Sadat Asghari and all other Iranian female athletes whose stories remain untold.