On Saturday, Indian pistol shooting champion Heena Sidhu announced that she was pulling out of the 9th Asian Airgun Shooting Championships, to be held in Tehran in December, in objection to the dress code for female tourists and competitors at the event.
The tournament’s website says that “women’s clothing in the shooting range and public places is required to conform to the rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Sidhu said that backing out of the competition was her own personal choices and that she is “not a revolutionary”.
“Forcing tourists or foreign guests to wear ‘hijab’ is against the spirit of the game”, said Sidhu to the Times of India.
“Since I don’t like it, I have withdrawn my name. You follow your religion and let me follow mine. I’ll not participate in this competition if you are going to force me to comply with your religious beliefs.”
Sidhu, 27, is a commonwealth gold medalist and defending champion of the competition. She said that the requirement for female competitors to don the veil is not in accordance with the spirit of sport.
“Sport is an exhibition of sheer Human Effort Performance”, said Sidhu in a series of tweets. “Our ability to dig deep for Strength, Will Power and Determination. ‘This is d reason I compete n I cannot compete for anything lesser than this.”
This is not the first time Sidhu has pulled out of an event over the issue of dress codes; in 2013, she pulled out of the 6th Asian Airgun Championships, also held in Iran.
“Instead of wasting my time and energy on preparing for the event in Iran, I would rather complete my rehabilitation”, she said of the event (she was recovering from shoulder and neck injuries at the time).
“The event in Iran, where the female shooters will have to wear a headscarf during the competition will need a different kind of practice,” she told the Mumbai Mirror.
“I am not used it and to get used to it I will have to practice for a minimum of three weeks. It will require a special kind of training and time dedicated specifically for it.”
Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India, said: “We have good ties with the Iranian shooting federation and we respect their culture and tradition. Whoever goes to Iran- tourists or diplomats- wears the hijab. Except Heena, all other Indian women shooters have accepted it.”
She said that she informed the National Rifle Association of India of her decision 20 days prior to her announcement.
On DNAIndia.com, Indian sportsmen and women weighed in on Sidhu’s decision.
“Sports should not have any such restrictions”, said Zafar Iqbal, former captain for India’s hockey team. “Being a shooter, Heena has to perform some kind of duty and if that interferes in her performance then she has all the right to take her decision. Every religion has its own rituals but that should not be binding upon anyone else. Heena should have been allowed if she wanted to compete without hijab.”
“Her withdrawal from the event will not affect her career at all”, said Suma Shirur, a former Indian shooter. “For any shooter, the four-year Olympic cycle is very important. This is just the beginning of the cycle for the next Olympics in 2020. Thus, her withdrawal should not have any impact, more so since she is just fresh off the recently-concluded Rio Olympics. A shooter of the caliber of Heena Sidhu will always look at long-term goals, which for her will be the next Olympics.”
While the hijab, a full headscarf, has been mandatory in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, not all in Iran are in favor of its obligatory usage. The National Council of Resistance of Iran states on its website:
“Another area of violence and compulsion in Iran is the mandatory dress code or Hijab. Since the early days of Khomeini’s rule, Iranian women protested against compulsory veiling…A series of laws were also devised to deprive Iranian women from their individual and social rights. A number of agencies are in charge of suppression and especially tasked to counter improper veiling…[Women] must be free to choose what they believe in, what they want to wear and how they want to live.”