Three Iranian women stepped over the ropes into a muaythai ring representing their country for the first time in over five years – holding true to their dreams and bringing home some bling even though they are not able to train with national coach.
Taking part in the IFMA World Cup in Kazan, Russia, the three along with a female referee and female government official, sat down with me (through an interpreter) to talk about women’s fighting in IR Iran. *
Masuomeh Tajir has been practicing muaythai for eight years, and won bronze at the IFMA World Championships in 2011.
She said: ‘For the last five or six years we were not allowed to fight in the ring so we could not compete in muaythai. So we kept ourselves busy with kickboxing. We could do light-contact, but mostly training.’
“I get a lot of confidence from muaythai. I feel powerful as a woman from doing it.”
Her teammate Fatemeh Yavari has been training for about five years and doing other martial arts too. She said at first muaythai was just a hobby and handball was her main sport. She also took part in Vovinam (a martial art from Vietnam).
Fatemeh said, smiling: “I took part in Vovinam contests, winning silver in France in 2013, but I was sometimes disqualified because I was a bit aggressive. That sport is very light-contact and the referees didn’t like my style.
“So this tournament is the first one we have trained fully in muaythai. We have been training all this time, we just couldn’t get in the ring.”
She added: “My family said to me I should stop muaythai, they were worried I could get hurt but I can’t stop. I have too much passion for muaythai to stop doing it.”
And they need the passion, as the official international representative of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Homeira Ahmad Majd explained:
“We have female referees now, but no female coaches. When I see the standard at this tournament, I can see our girls need more support from our government. We have great male coaches, but our girls need a female coach so they can be trained properly.
“At the moment they train by themselves as it’s not appropriate to train with a male coach.”
|Muslim fighters at IFMA events can wear this outfit including hijab, must be white|
Saeedah Ghafari has been training muaythai for three years, she told me:
“You know because I’m so tall, people tried to pressure me to do basketball or volleyball in Iran. But my passion was for muaythai. So I pushed myself to train hard.
“I couldn’t go to tournaments because I started exactly at the moment there a ban on competition in the rings. But when I sparred with girls who had that experience, I did well so I figured that I had potential and should keep going.”
Saeedah said she thinks girls doing sport in Iran need support from international groups like IFMA.
She said: “This will help the sport in our country as well. At the moment not many people know exactly what it is we are doing, but with more support from our muaythai family I know we can make it more popular.”
|Referee Arezoo Maghdury wears the hijab while working in the ring as well as the normal referee uniform|
The last woman on the sofa was Arezoo Maghdury who’s been a coach and referee for 24 years, first in Vovinam and kickboxing; and now a muaythai referee.
She said: “Last year the kickboxing championships was in Spain, and Iran sent me as a referee. It was the first time they sent a woman as a referee to international competition.
“We had problems at first about wearing a hijab while being in the ring. But when they saw I could do a good job they allowed me in the ring – we showed we could impress them!”
Arezoo said the key issue is sport should allow women to be seen. She said: “We are very skilled, we should be seen on the world stage. Sports should not limit our fighters or referees because we are wearing the hijab.”
Follow the IR Iran muaythai team on Instagram
Read more about IFMA’s work to promote women in muaythai.
*A version of this interview first appeared on the IFMA website.