Koshti (wrestling) has a long tradition in Iran and is considered the national sport. Pahlavani-style wrestling is a traditional discipline, which combines physical training for moral and martial purposes. The sport is performed in a traditional gymnasium (or academy) called a zurkhaneh (literally ‘house of strength’) and combines elements of pre-Islamic Iranian culture with the spirituality of Sufism. Wrestling champion Gholamreza Takhti (1930-1968) is Iran’s most popular athlete and a national hero. In 1956 he won Iran’s first gold medal in the Melbourne Olympics. Other strength sports, such as weightlifting, are also popular, especially since the recent successes of world-record-holding super-heavyweight lifter Hossein Rezazadeh. With Iran’s mountainous regions, skiing, hiking, and trekking are popular activities. Ski resorts, such as Towchal and Dizin, are located close to Tehran.
Football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport in Iran. In October 2012, Iran’s national football team ranked 58th in FIFA’s world ranking table. The Iran Premier League (IPL), also called the Persian Gulf Cup, is the highest level of club football in Iran. The two most popular clubs, Persepolis and Esteghlal, are from Tehran. When the teams face each other during the Tehran Derby, the stadiums are packed with fans wearing Persepolis red or Esteghlal blue.
With a capacity of 100,000, Azadi Stadium in Tehran is Iran’s national (and largest) stadium. Women are banned from men’s sporting events and are not allowed inside the stadium, but that doesn’t stop some women from trying to get in. The film Offside (2005), by Iranian director Jafar Panahi, captures the attempt by a group of young girls to sneak into Azadi Stadium and watch an important qualification match for the World Cup. The film was banned in Iran, and Panahi has been detained since 2010.
Iran’s national team excites its fans. The qualifying matches for the World Cup in 1998 and 2006 set off spontaneous street celebrations and demonstrations. Iran won its first World Cup match by defeating the United States 2-1 in 1998. Because of the country’s political stance the match was preheated with much excitement. The victory is still talked about. Following obsessed fans both inside and outside Iran, the documentary Football Iranian Style (2001) by Iranian filmmaker and human-rights activist Maziar Bahari proves that sports mirror a nation’s psyche and, depending on the score, sometimes influence it.
Women and sports
In 1993 Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, vice President of Iran’s National Olympic Committee and a daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani initiated the Islamic Women’s Games. Because men are not allowed to attend the games, as judges or spectators, women can take part in all sports in normal sports attire.
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