A parkour athlete from Lahijan doing a flip on the beach. Screen capture from video below.
Despite having to practise in unwieldy clothing – not to mention having to stay on the lookout for police - Iranian women are getting into the sport of parkour. Some even create videos in which they show off their skills, and post them online. One of these brave women tells us about the challenges of practising parkour in an Islamic republic.
Parkour involves moving around urban obstacles as quickly as possible. Athletes run up walls, scale fences, jump between roofs, do back flips, and much more. The sport first originated in the 1980s with a small group of athletes in the suburbs of Paris, but only rose to fame in the 2000s with the film “Yamakasi.” Parkour has since spread throughout the world thanks to the Internet, everywhere from Gaza to Egypt to Iran.
Women practicising parkour in Lahijan, Iran.
“This sport is all about speed – unlike the lives of young Iranian women, which sometimes feel like they’re frozen”
Gilda (not her real name), 20, is a university student who lives in the northwestern city of Lahijan.
In Iran, we learned about parkour and other street sports through satellite TV [which is illegal, but widespread]. Parkour has become popular in the past couple of years; I know of boys and girls who do it in my town, but also in many others, like in Rasht and along the Caspian sea [the sport is often practised on the beach]. It’s not organised – we don’t have teams, we just do this among friends.Of course, it’s not easy for girls. While boys practise parkour in the streets, as it is meant to be done, girls often prefer to practise in less-busy places like beaches or natural parks, where there aren’t many people around. We fear getting in trouble with the police or basijis [volunteer militiamen who act as the morality police], who could accuse us of copying a Western fad. We could also get in trouble for practising sports outside designated facilities.A parkour athlete in Tehran. Photo published on the Facebook page Iranian Parkour Girls.“Due to our clothes, we can’t move quite as fast as boys”Parkour is a not an easy sport to do while wearing a headscarf and a manto [a style of long tunic worn by many Iranian women] over pants. You have to worry about getting your manto caught on things and making you fall, so you can’t move quite as fast as boys. But we have no other choice.Still, it’s a lot of fun. It’s all about speed – unlike the lives of young Iranian women, which sometimes feel like they’re frozen. I went to kung fu classes for a while, but I knew that I could never get very far in this sport in a sexist society with hard-line Islamic rules.Iranian women are officially allowed to participate in all sports – except boxing and wrestling – but there are just so many restrictions. To join a team, you have to wear a hijab, which isn’t exactly practical! Furthermore, sports facilities are not divided equally between men and women; women practise separately, often in much smaller spaces, if at all. Lastly, the media pays zero attention to women athletes. All of this discourages girls and women from participating in sports.
A boy and a girl practising parkour in Tehran. Video published on Facebook.
Young women practising parkour in Isfahan in 2010.