President's Daughter Rallies for Women's Sports in Iran Series: WOMEN CHANGING THE MIDEAST. Part Three of a Three-Part Series. Second Article Appearing Today. the Tw Previous Articles in This Three-Part Series Appeared on March 24 and Mach27

Article excerpt

A WOMAN'S right to dress more freely and to compete in sports is getting a boost from an unlikely corner of the Iranian state -- Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani -- the daughter of the Iranian president.

A dedicated female athlete, Ms. Rafsanjani was trained as a political scientist, but was appointed deputy director of the Iranian Olympic Committee in 1992.

Since then, professional women's sports in Iran have snowballed thanks to this young mother of two children. Rallying for Iran to be represented at international sporting competitions for women, she has argued successfully for broadening women's participation in all sports.

"There were some cleric jurists who opposed the idea," she explains in a recent interview. "We have to remember that to some {of the more conservative jurists}, women speaking in public is a sin.

"But so far, there have not been serious problems that could have prevented the committee from moving on. We have done well," she says.

Prior to the 1979 revolution, participation in sports was available only to women who did not mind training with men, "thus excluding many devout Muslim women," Rafsanjani says.

Her influential support has been a boon to the likes of Makin Shareh Shemshaki, who is eagerly waiting to lead the national Iranian women's skiing team to compete internationally.

"I think that we shall be competing soon," Ms. Shemshaki says hopefully during a pause in a practice run on the mountain she has skied since she was four.

In addition to wearing a regular ski suit, Iranian women on the slopes must wear a knee-length light coat to meet Islamic rules. Asked if it will be comfortable for skiing, "I guess yes, but it might hinder the performance during competition," she shrugs.

Semshaki says the women's ski team is awaiting senior clergy approval of a modified uniform the women want to wear at international competitions.

While Ms. Rafsanjani crusades to adjust such attire to suit the sport -- up to a point -- she says her views are well within the bounds of strict Islamic law. That law has changed for the better, she says. A devout Muslim, she accepts segregation of the sexes, but she does not accept restrictions by clerics on women athletes. …