Defiant Running: Unveiled Women Marathoners Spark High-Level Resignation in Iran’s Athletics Federation


In different parts of the world, there are different laws and regulations governing how certain citizens must dress in public.

Notoriously, there is a headscarf requirement for women in certain countries in the Middle East, with potential punishments enforced for women who disobey this law and participate in an event in public without a headscarf.

Recently, the headscarf requirement for women in Iran has become a topic of focus and a cause for protest since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022.

Mahsa Amini was killed while in the custody of the morality police after being detained for allegedly violating the hijab bylaw.

Headscarves, known as hijabs, have been a required part of the dress code for women in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when in public settings.

Just this past Sunday, May 7, 2023, the head of Iran’s Athletics Federation, Hashem Siami, resigned after a controversy where several teenage women ran in a marathon in Shiraz, a city in Central/Southern Iran, without wearing the mandatory headscarf.

Reportedly, there were photographs published by Iranian media that showed several young women running the marathon and crossing the finish line without wearing the compulsory headscarves in the public marathon race, which took place on Friday, May 5, 2023.

According to the Israeli National News, a statement from the provincial prosecutor said that local organizers of the public race event have been summoned to provide “explanations” for the lack of enforcing the hijab mandate at the public event.

Siami told IRNA that he was not involved in organizing the running race and that the unveiled women running in the Shiraz race were not part of the national federation; however, amidst the turmoil, Siami has stepped down from his position of Head of Iran’s Athletics Federation.

After Amini was killed for violating the hijab rule, protests and demonstrations erupted across Iran.

The government responded to these protests, arresting thousands of demonstrators and killing hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel.

Although Amini was not the first woman in Iran to not wear a hijab in a public setting, since her death in September, an increasing number of Iranian women have stood in solidarity with Mahsa Amini by voluntarily ditching their own headscarves.

In response, Iranian authorities recently announced that cameras would be installed in public settings and roadways to help identify and punish unveiled women.

Over 150 commercial establishments have been closed over the past week or so if employees have been found to be violating the dress code and forgoing the required hijab.

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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