Ice Hockey Unique Challenge for Women in Iran
WANA (Feb 2021) – Ice hockey is not a sport you would expect to find in many places. Perhaps the most prominent countries that come to mind when thinking of ice hockey are Canada and Scandinavian countries like Finland. Iran – along with every country in the Middle East – is often generalized to have the dry arid desert climate of the Arabian Peninsula, and so it isn’t expected that the country would have any winter activities to offer.
Regardless of the climate of a country, winter sports are becoming more common as more countries, especially those in the Persian Gulf region, are bringing around the infrastructure needed for them through weather and climate simulation means. One of Dubai’s most famous attractions is an indoor ski slope in the Mall of the Emirates. Iran already has a plethora of winter sports with ski slopes in various locations across the Alborz and Zagros mountains. Ice hockey is the latest of these winter sports being introduced in the country.
Diba Karimi is a 29-year-old professional hockey player from Iran. She and her family have always been involved in sports. Her father was a soccer player and her sister is a professional table tennis coach. Diba herself used to exclusively play in-line hockey – a type of hockey with rollerblades on solid ground – but has started playing ice hockey as well ever since she joined a hockey club and gained access to a standard ice hockey rink. As a young adult with many talents, Diba tells us she first started out with ice skating, and later moved on to hockey because of her mastery of skating and the teamwork it requires.
As with many sports, Islamic decency laws throughout the Middle East have always scrutinized female attire in sport, but this seems to not be an issue in ice hockey. Diba tells WANA the dress code for male and female ice hockey players is largely the same. Both groups wear loose and baggy jerseys over thick guards and protective pads while wearing bulky helmets, breaking down their silhouettes to the bare essentials of a bipedal. The real things hindering the widespread adoption of ice hockey in Iran are the expensive gear and the lack of infrastructure. Hockey gear, which is imported, is expensive for the average Iranian, and only one standard ice rink exists in the entirety of the capital.
The drive to the ice rink Diba trains at, the only standard rink in Tehran, from Diba’s house around rush hour, took around an hour and a half. The rink’s location around 20 kilometers from the city center and Tehran’s frequent commute congestion add to reasons why the sport is such a niche in its current state in the country. When we get there, Diba’s teammates on the Farmaniyeh Hockey Club team are gearing up to enter the rink for practice. Their coach tells us the team regularly undergoes COVID testing and so they don’t wear masks during their practices as they make breathing difficult under intense activity.
Ice hockey in Iran is a niche in its current form, with women’s ice hockey being a niche within that niche. The problem the women’s team faces in this sport is unrelated to morality issues it creates or the climate of the country it’s in, but rather the expensive equipment and the as of yet limited infrastructure pose a great barrier to entry for the sport, both men and women alike. These girls are frontrunners in this field of female athletes and hope to one day attain championship titles and elevate the standing of their team and the sport as a whole in Iranian society.