On a Tuesday morning in June, Elham Asghari stepped into the tidal waters of the chilly Caspian sea in northern Iran to swim 20km in full Islamic dress. But her record-breaking nine-hour feat has not been recognised by national authorities because she is a woman.
By Nigar Orujova
The eighth elective general assembly of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has decided to hold the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan in 2017, the Azerbaijani National Olympic Committee said on July 24.
The ISSF member states voted for holding the Islamic Solidarity Games 2017 in Azerbaijan at the Assembly.
The Azerbaijani capital put forward its bid to host the tournament in February. The tournament is due from June 23 to July 2, 2017.
A presentation about Azerbaijan was made during the General Assembly by Vice President of NOC and ISSF Chingiz Huseynzade, head of the international relations department and executive director of the organizing committee of the Islamic Solidarity Games Baku-2017, Kenul Nurullayeva, and NOC expert on international programs and member of the working group of the Islamic Solidarity Games Mehman Kerimov, according to the NOC.
As part of the General Assembly the "Baku-2017" book was presented. The book includes sections on the concept of the Games, a review of the political and economic situation, legal aspects, customs and immigration aspects, information about the environment and meteorology, finance, marketing, communications, sports facilities and competitions, residential areas, transportation, security, medical services and doping control.
A special video on the Islamic games was demonstrated to the participants and relevant booklets were distributed.
New staff of the ISSF for 2013-2017 was also determined during the event. Thus, Chingiz Huseynzade was re-elected as a vice-president of the organization for the next four years.
Kenul Nurullayeva became a member of the executive committee. This landmark decision on the membership of a woman in the ISSF executive committee was made for the first time since 1968, on the basis of structural changes.
Azerbaijan became the only country represented in the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation by two representatives.
Moreover, it was decided to hold the General Assembly of the ISSF in Baku in 2015.
In May in Baku, ISSF Secretary General Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Nassar said that the evaluation commission for the Games believes that Baku has all the suitable conditions for hosting the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.
The Games, which will bring together athletes from 57 countries, will be held under the slogan "Solidarity is our power". More than 160 Azerbaijani sportsmen will participate in the Games. The Muslim religion of all athletes is not a pre-condition for participation in the competition.
The Islamic Solidarity Games is a multinational, multi-sport event involving the elite athletes of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN with 57 member states spread over four continents.
The first of the ISG tournaments was held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia with an Olympic-style tournament aimed at showing Muslim sports prowess and featuring 6,000 athletes.
Azerbaijan gained four gold, four silver and seven bronze medals at the first ISG, thus becoming the eighth country in the medal table.
The second event, originally scheduled to take place in October 2009 in Iran, and later re-scheduled for April 2010, was cancelled after a dispute emerged between Iran and the Arab countries. The third Games will be held in Indonesia this year.
By Chris Stephen
|Rights groups say the problems facing Libya’s women footballers are part of a larger struggle over women's rights. Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images|
Libya's international woman's football team, already under threat from religious extremists, has been banned from taking part in a major tournament next week by the country's sporting authorities.
In a move likely to raise questions about its commitment to equal rights, Libya's football association told the team it cannot fly to Germany on Saturday, citing concerns that it takes place within the holy month of Ramadan.
"The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting," said midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed. "We want to go but they say you cannot go."
Libya had been due to play teams from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Germany in Discover Football, a tournament funded by the German government. It is billed as the biggest gathering of Middle-Eastern women's footballers since the 2011 Arab spring.
El-Alabed, at 37 the oldest player in the squad and who played in Liverpool while earning a Phd in sports science, said the ban had shattered hopes that the fall of Gaddafi would bring social change. "Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying."
After initially giving permission for the tournament, Libya's FA changed its mind. "It is Ramadan," said the FA general secretary, Nasser Ahmed. "We are not against women playing football."
It is understood German diplomats are working behind the scenes to provide guarantees that the 18-strong squad would be secure in Berlin.
Threats from Islamist radicals have already forced the team to train in secret, constantly switching venues and deploying armed guards.
In June Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last September, issued a statement saying it "severely condemned" women's football
"This is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law," it said. "It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate."
Salim Jabar, one of Libya's most popular television preachers, has demanded the women's team disband, saying it was against the strictures of Islam.
"This team consists of tall, good-looking young girls, and that's the last thing this country needs," he said in a sermon broadcast from his Benghazi mosque. "For the first day that she [a Libyan woman] signed up for this team, she has sold herself and brought shame on her family."
Women's football was allowed during the Gaddafi regime, but only in reduced format with teams playing in gyms to be out of the public eye in this conservative Muslim country. Since the revolution the international team has been allowed to play 11-a-side, but its higher profile has made it a lightning rod for extremists.
"They [radicals] say to us you are no good, they intimidate us," says team captain Fadwa el-Bahi, 25.
At one training session, the location of which the Guardian was asked to keep secret, the team coach, Emmad el-Fadeih, said the women had already met strict FA guidelines. All play in head-to-foot blue tracksuits rather than shorts and T-shirts, and most wore the hijab.
El-Fadeih said the team had complied with FA rules that only unmarried women could travel to Germany, and then only if their father or guardian gave written permission.
"There are groups like Ansar al-Sharia don't want them, some people say football is not suitable for women," said el-Fadeih.
Fears of a backlash also saw team members refuse to be photographed for the tournament website. "They don't want their faces displayed," said Naziha Arebi, a British-Libyan filmmaker. "These women just want to play football."
El-Bahi, a geophysics graduate, insists nothing in the Qur'an bans women from sport. "The prophet (Muhammad and his wife used to run together and compete with each other."
She said the authorities should be highlighting the role women's football plays in fostering togetherness in a country wracked with militia violence. "This team is an example of reconciliation," she said. "We have former Gaddafi girls and former rebels, side-by-side."
Rights groups say the problems facing Libya's women footballers are part of a larger struggle by women who have struggled to win their rights. This month Libya's congress, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, gave just six seats to women in a 60-strong commission formed to write a new constitution.
Tournament organisers say Libya's place will remain open. "We have heard that the football association decided that they are not allowed to go," said Discover Football spokeswoman Johanna Kosters "We will wait and see if they get on the plane."
Turkey, a country that sits on both the Asian and European continents, is governed by secular laws. It would be the first mainly Muslim country to host the Olympics if Istanbul wins in its fifth attempt.