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Zaynab Versi

My Trip to Iran

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THE TITILLATING TRIP TO TEHRAN

It was a dream come true. Playing football for my country, something I thought I would never be able to do except in my wildest dreams. That was until the introduction of The Muslim Women Olympic Games. Here was a chance to encourage and enable women from all around the world to enter an arena that had for too long appeared unsuitable for Muslim Women. Britain was the first non-Muslim Western country to be invited to the third event of its kind and I was one of the lucky ones to pass the preliminaries and begin the strenuous training required to prepare us for the Games. Surprisingly, there were very few facilities solely for women, not just for venues to practice, but also finding the necessary female coaches to help us train.  

We felt like stars from the moment coaching began. Cameras hadn't stopped clicking since the British Satellite News had filmed our departure at Heathrow Airport. Giving impromptu interviews to TV, radio and newspaper journalists had become second nature to many of us! The first thing that struck me on our arrival in Tehran was the warm reception we received from the Iranians. All waiting patiently at 2.00AM, despite the flights extensive delays, eager to take us to the aptly named ‘Olympic Hotel’ There, we were greeted with yet more hugs and smiles, especially by the British team who can personally vouch for some rather hilarious hiccups that were later discovered in the Hotel.

We were stunned by one of the first things people would tell us, ‘It’s ok, you’re free here, you don’t have to wear hijab’ Ironically, they were ones taken aback by our fairly orthodox observation of the hijab and especially coming from a western country, they were shocked that the majority really observed hijab on a daily basis. Prior to our visit, we had all envisaged a country with strict laws, harsh punishments and oppressed women. We saw none of these.

Like the modern Olympics, the central theme pivoted around the notion of peace. The exhilarating opening ceremony, from the lap of honour that each county made to the lighting of the official Games torch, was an experience of a life time in itself. If possible, the atmosphere in the changing rooms was even more spine tingling, if not a bit nerve racking. Now I know how Sven and his boys feel before a match! We were also excited at going through similar rituals to that of professional footballers; entering the stadium through the players tunnel, the exchange of mascots and mementos, the roll call and recognition of each individual squad member. It was surreal.

As we began the competition, we knew we were in for a tough ride – we just didn’t know how tough. The phenomenal standards of each national team were staggering and illuminated the need for governmental support towards training etc. Many of the teams had trained together for a solid two and a half years specifically for these games. The Iranian team had taken time off work to practice with their personal, (yes, personal) coach. Our defeat puzzled many of the contestants who expected our performance to be as impressive as our much sought after kit, but who soon respected our determination once they realised the difficulties of training within the laws of the Shariah (Islamic Law) in the UK.

We were also lucky enough to visit Tehran and catch a glimpse of the magnificent mountains, the rivers, forests and all the other marvels of nature in Iran. At the top of the mountain we were stunned with the breathtaking view that filled our eyes. From the summit, we could see the whole of Tehran and we reflected on the past few days, a memory that would remain with us for many years to come.      

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