Iranian Athlete Elnaz Rekabi Faces Uncertain Fate after Competing without Hijab

Updated On Oct 19, 2022 by Landon Wheeler

Elnaz RekabiSummary

  • There are fears the Iranian climber could be arrested back home for not wearing a hijab at a competition in Seoul
  • Rekabi said her head covering accidentally fell off during the competition
  • She issued an apology but some groups claimed she may have done it under pressure

Female Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi, who was initially reported missing after participating in an international climbing competition in South Korea without a hijab, flew to Iran on Oct 18 amid concerns she could be arrested back home for not wearing a headscarf while competing at the Climbing Asian Championships in Seoul.

Rekabi “Forced” to Apologize

In multiple videos that have since gone viral on social media, the 33 year old Rekabi is seen climbing a wall without a head covering, her hair tied in a ponytail. The sports climber issued an apology on Instagram for getting everybody worried and explained that her hijab accidentally fell off after an unexpected call for her to climb the wall at the sport event. She also confirmed in the same Instagram post that she was on her way to Iran with her team.

However, some groups aren’t convinced Rekabi wrote the apology of her own free will. There are speculations she could have been pressured by Iranian authorities to do it, just like what they had done to Iranian women athletes in the past who competed overseas without a hijab, some of whom reportedly never returned home over fears they might be arrested.

Rekabi could not be contacted after videos of her competing without a head covering made the rounds online. Mahmood Reza Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Norway-based rights group Iran Human Rights, said Rekabi’s punishment already started while she was still in South Korea.


The Iranian embassy in Seoul dismissed the stories and information circulating on social media and other online outlets as “fake, false news“.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in South Korea and the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) both stated it’s their understanding that Rekabi already left for Iran along with other members of the Iranian delegation. IFSC also said it has been in contact with Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation.

Hijab Protests Continue in Iran

Iran requires all of its women to wear a hijab in under the Islamic rules of modesty. This mandatory policy which is considered by many as an infringement of human rights has been the subject of debates and protests over the years.

Several groups are currently staging protests in the country after a 22-year-old woman who was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly, died in police custody.

Rekabi is facing an uncertain fate back home, with news website IranWire making a still-unverified claim that the athlete would be transferred to prison when she arrives. The IFSC said that it will continue to keep a close eye on the situation with Rekabi.


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