Iran, says yes to "female motorcyclists"

The Islamic Republic’s Automobile and Motorcycling Federation opens competitions to women. The hope is to see women in the world championship. The first competition widely covered by the national media. In contrast with Saudi Arabia, where women are even forbidden to drive.

Teheran (AsiaNews) - The Automobile and Motorcycling Federation (Mafiri) of the Islamic Republic of Iran has opened its doors to female motorcyclists. Now, in fact, women can participate in motocross racing, which - like many motor racing disciplines - were previously only reserved for men. The president of Motorsport Federation Iranian Mahmoud Seydanlou announced the decision as he attended a motocross exhibition held recently in Tehran dedicated to women.

On the sidelines of the event Seydanlou stressed that the hope is to "see Iranian women participate in the national championship." Moreover, this first step could "open the doors of the world championship" for the most talented Iranian female motorcyclist.

"There is much interest - said the chief executive of the Islamic Republic - from women who want to take part  in sports competitions. For us it is gratifying to take steps that allow them to practice their favorite sport”.

The motocross event for women was welcomed by the country's racing fans, catching the attention of the mainstream media which is usually are reluctant to broadcasting competitions in which women participate. However, state television covered the event and celebrated the motorcyclists who flocked to the track and competed in rounds of twists and jumps.

Among the pioneers of the competition was 27 year old Behnaz Shafiei, a member of a group of young women - first ever - to have received permission to practice on off-piste circuits. She is also the only one to have driven race cars on the track and having practiced in a professional sport, though so far in reserved places. "There are people - she had stated in an interview with the Guardian - who do not believe a woman can ride a motorcycle. But in general people are enthusiastic and mostly proud "to see her drive.

In addition, the young motorcyclists is very proud of her belonging to the Iranian Republic and, while nurturing the desire to participate in a race, would never have agreed to "go abroad" to compete: "I want to make Iran proud, my country and show that Iranian women can practice this sport".

For the Islamic Republic of Iran this is a new, important step in the process of increasing autonomy and importance reserved for women. A freedom that is not even conceivable in other countries in the region, if you think that - for example – that in Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive (as well as leaving home alone or go abroad).

In October 2013, at least 150 Islamic figures, including imams and Koranic scholars, organized protests to stop the campaign of Saudi women who were seeking the right to drive the car. Although there is no Koranic ban, no law prohibiting women from driving, driving licenses are not issued to women in the kingdom.

If a woman is caught in the act while driving, she is liable to a sentence of 10 lashes. Among the few women who wanted to challenge the norm, activist Saudi Wajiha Huwaidar launched a courageous campaign for the freedom to drive in 2008 by posting a video of herself driving on YouTube. The images went viral worldwide, but nothing has changed in the ultraconservative kingdom.