Petition demands that female Iranian swimmer's record be recognized

Claudine Zap

Fair is fairand fair this ain't.

Imagine being a competitive swimmer forced to wear head-to-toe religion garb that weighs you down.

Imagine being required to swim in a second-rate pool because you're a woman.

And then imagine the gall when some of your fellow countrymen refuse to recognize the very extraordinary things you've still managed to pull off.

Elham Hasgari doesn't have to imagine, thanks to the Iranian Swimming Federation.

A petition is calling on the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to require the Iranians to recognize Asghari’s personal record. Her challenging open-water swim of 20 kilometers in 9 hours clothed head to toe in heavy garb has inspired more than 147,000 signatures for her incredible athletic feat to be recognized.

The 32-year-old, who has been swimming since age five, says she must adhere to a strict Islamic dress code, wearing a flowing, full-body costume when she hits the water. According to the petition, the outfit she designed to meet Islamic rules weighs 6 kilograms, about 13 pounds, making her swims unbelievable difficult certainly much more so than those of male swimmers.

"She continues to face obstacles and challenges that most athletes would never have to deal with on a daily basis," the petition argues.

Women are allowed only in gender-segregated pools and are barred from entering international competitions, reports the Guardian. In one open-water swim, Iranian police in a boat attempting to stop her cut her legs and hip with the propeller, notes the petition.

Asghari says she broke her personal 20-kilometer record from a female-only beach in June 2013 by completing a swim in the Caspian Sea in nine hours. She says Iranian officials won’t recognize it. "Although I [stuck to] the full Islamic dress code and had swimming officials present at all times, [the authorities] said no matter how Islamic my swimming gear, it was unacceptable," she told the Guardian. "They said the feminine features of my body were showing as I came out of water," she added.

In a video the swimmer herself posted, she is in a pool underwater and covered from head to toe in fabric.

"Swimming with these swimsuits always hurts my body," she says in a voice-over narration with English subtitles. The video shows her swimming underwater in a pool.

In the video, Asghari says that swimming federation officials have agreed to credit her 18 kilometers of her swim, not the full 20. "My 20km record has been held hostage in the hands of people who cannot even swim a distance of 20 meters,” she says.

“Swimming is not exclusively for men,” she says. “We ladies do well too."

“It’s kind of like she’s being punished because she’s a woman,” Yassmin Manauchehri, author of the petition, told Yahoo News on the phone.

“They should celebrate her not punish her,” Manauchehri added. An Iranian-American, Manauchehri hopes that the petition will lead Iranian officials from the swimming federation to “acknowledge what she’s done and take a different stand when it comes to respecting female athletes.”

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) did not respond to a query from Yahoo News.