Elnas Regabi: Fans cheer, clap as climber returns to Iran

DUBAI, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Iranian climber Elnas Regabi, who caused controversy by competing in an international competition without a headscarf, returned to Iran to cheering supporters.

Footage showed Regabi, 33, climbing a wall with her head uncovered while representing Iran at a tournament in South Korea, at a time of unprecedented protests in Iran over the “death of a young woman who was detained by morality police for inappropriate clothing.”

In comments to state television upon her arrival in Tehran, Rekhabi said she was back “in full health” and “apologised to the people of Iran for the turmoil and anxiety I caused,” wearing a baseball cap and a hood as she spoke.

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“The struggle I had to put on my shoes and get my gear ready, I forgot about the proper hijab I was supposed to have on, and I ended up climbing the wall,” she added.

A crowd of well-wishers clapped and cheered as he was driven out of the airport, recording the scene on mobile phones, according to footage posted on Twitter.

In a statement posted on her Instagram account on Tuesday, Regabi noted that she competed without a veil due to poor planning, saying she was unexpectedly invited to climb.

In his televised comments, Regabi, who finished fourth in the tournament, denied he had been unreachable for 48 hours and said the team had returned to Iran as planned. He said he has no plans to quit the national team.

BBC Persian reported on Tuesday that friends had been unable to contact her and there were fears for her safety. Iran’s embassy in South Korea took to Twitter to deny reports that he had gone missing after the match.

The International Olympic Committee said it had spoken to the athlete and received assurances from Iran’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) that he would not face consequences.

“A joint meeting between the IOC, (International Climbing Federation) IFSC and the Iranian NOC took place today during which the IOC and IFSC received clear assurances that Ms Regabi will not face any consequences and will continue to train and compete.” An IOC spokesperson said.

Another joint meeting was held between the teams and Regabi, the spokesman said, adding that the IOC would monitor the situation closely in the coming days and weeks.

The death last month of Mahza Amini, who was in custody of the Islamic Republic’s morality police after she was detained for “improper clothing”, sparked nationwide protests during which women removed their headscarves and burned them.

The protests ignited by Amini’s death have grown into one of the Islamic Republic’s boldest challenges since the 1979 revolution, although the unrest has not come close to toppling the regime.

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Reported by Dubai Newsroom; Additional reporting by Carolus Croman, Editing by William McLean and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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