08/09/2012 12:09 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Iran's Female Olympians Face Extra Hurdles


During the women's Olympic gymnastic competition on July 29, Lynn and Rickey Raisman were proud to watch their daughter Aly compete in the arena. Their nervousness and joy in their daughter's achievements was a familiar scene for many parents, but it is only a dream for others around the world -- particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although the Iranian government has permitted some women's teams to participate in international competitions, it greatly restricts their participation in domestic games. For instance, no men are allowed to watch women's games in Iran. This raises a few questions about the intentions of Iranian sporting officials: If it is "Islamic enough" for women to play in front of global audiences, then why they can't play in Iran? And such international participation doesn't meet Islamic requirements, did the Iranian government merely agree with it to avoid international pressure?

As for sports that can't be played with some form of an acceptable Islamic uniform (like swimming) -- forget about it. And some other sports are mired in bizarre controversy. Muslim women's karate teams, for instance, are waiting for their sport's international confederation to approve their Islamic uniform.

Meanwhile, uniforms for Taekwondo and running have already been approved. Why have some sports been approved for international competition, but not national?

These absurd clothing restrictions and bans on male spectators have prevented fathers from having a greater role in their daughters' achievements. Yet studies show that female athletes need the support of their fathers. According to the "Melpomene Journal" (11: 23), more than half of girls aged 9-12 indicated that their fathers' were a primary motivation for their achievement.

Stephen S. Leff, who holds an M.A. in psychology from the University of North Carolina, and his colleague Rick H. Hoyle Ph.D., have further researched the issue of athletes' needs and perception of parental support. In a 1995 article, they wrote that:

Both females and males perceived similar levels of support from their mother and father; however, females perceived greater support from both parents than did males...For both females and males, perceived parental support was positively associated with enjoyment of tennis participation and self- esteem. The findings are discussed as evidence of a general association between adolescents' perceptions of their parents' involvement in their achievement-oriented activities and their enjoyment of such activities and self-perception of abilities associated with those activities. [Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Volume 24, Number 2]

Padideh Blourizadi is the captain of the Iranian women's national volleyball team and a member

of the Iranian women's running team. She has received many honours throughout her life,

including being named one of the top ten best female athletes of the year.

As such, she serves as a compelling example of the injustices that Iranian female athletes face. As a member of two national teams, she has spent countless hours in arenas and stadiums, but her father was not permitted to attend a single one of his daughter's events before his death.

In an interview with Shirzanan, the first sports magazine for Iranian women, Padideh spoke about her feelings after her father's passing:

When Iran hosted the Women's Islamic Games [organized by the Islamic Federation of Women's Sports (IFWS)], I was the last to carry the torch. My father was allowed to enter the stadium for the first time. I remember when I was passing him, I glanced his way and saw that his entire face was in tears, and that he was shouting my name out loud. He never saw me in action again.

Athletes' parents devote a great deal of time, effort, and emotional and financial support to their children's success. Being able to witness that success, therefore, is their dream -- and their right. For me, a memory from my own childhood puts this in perspective. I was nine-years-old when I joined my school's volleyball team. When I came back home from our first game, my father asked "did you play in the field or sit on the bench?" Instead of replying, I smart-mouthed, "Why didn't you come and see it yourself?" I blamed him for not showing up, too young to realize he wasn't allowed to. My father didn't say a word.

This year was the first in modern history that all Olympic teams -- including that of Saudi Arabic -- had at least one female athlete representing her country. That's only because of international pressure, like that from the International Olympic Federation, which prohibited the Saudi team from participating unless it fielded at least one female athlete. This is a positive development.

Allowing women to compete in front of male audiences, even if they are wearing Islamic uniforms, gives those female athletes a greater chance for practice and recognition. They deserve the support from their fellow countrymen, and from their male relatives.

Remember the excitement in Ricky Raismin's eyes, as he watched his daughter's performance on July 29. Moments of pride like that belong to all fathers and daughters.