Iran will be sending a senior female weightlifting team to an international competition for the first time. The Asian Championships will be held in Ningbo, China from April 18th to April 20th, and seven women from the ages of 17 to 22 years-old will be representing Iran, Inside the Games reported on Wednesday.
Iran also confirmed that they will also be sending a men’s team of 10 to the Asian Championships. The complete entries list for the Asian Championships hasn’t been officially released by the Asian Weightlifting Federation (AWF) yet, but one thing is for certain: Iran will be represented by both men and women.
The President of the Iran Weightlifting Federation (IRIWF), Ali Moradi, spoke with Inside the Games and said, “I am very happy, very proud – we have worked so hard with our female team over the past year.”
In an interview with the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) in 2018, Moradi said one of the major sources of inspiration to get a women’s team competing on an international stage was when Sara Ahmed became the first Arab woman to win an Olympic medal. Ahmed won a bronze-medal for Egypt at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Last March, at the Fajr Cup in Ahvaz, a men’s only event turned into an historic event for women in Iran.
U.S. weightlifter Derrick Johnson became the first U.S. athlete in 53 years to lift in Iran, but also breaking barriers was Sally Van de Water, who became the first female to referee a men’s lifting competition in Iran. Ursula Garza Papandrea became the first woman to coach a man in a competition in Iran. She coached Johnson. Papandrea is also the president of USA Weightlifting and a vice president of the IWF.
Papandrea was also in Ahvaz to teach a women’s weightlifting camp. While Papandrea was working to grow the sport in Iran for women by leading a course in weightlifting, women weren’t actually allowed to watch the Fajr Cup. After a day of protesting women were allowed to spectate and even lift. Aysan Adib, an eight-year-old attending the weightlifting camp, made national headlines lifting on the competition’s stage.
“I was moved to tears,” Van de Water told Team USA. “To see that slow progression of women taking on roles they’d never taken on before, I was struck with awe at their perseverance and courage. These folks live there. Their families can be affected by the choices they make and the stand they were making. I hope the powers that be see this is a good thing and it’s bringing positive attention to Iran and for women who want to participate in weightlifting.”
Now, Iran is sending a team of seven women to an international competition for the first time. In the Inside the Games interview, Ali Moradi expressed his hope for the women’s team medaling in the future, but understands in the short term they are just hoping to keep building their presence in the sport. Iran can send a maximum of two men and two women to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, due to restrictions based on doping violations dating back to 2008.
“We know we cannot take medals in the Asian Championships,” Moradi said. “But in the future we will be better.”
Papandrea couldn’t be more excited to see a platform for women in Iran. “This is an exciting development,” she said. “I am really encouraged about the progress this indicates.”
Feature image via @Iranian_weightlifting Instagram.