By Julien Pretot
PARIS, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Street protests are not a good strategy for opposing Iran’s government, an Iranian female boxer in exile said after climber Elnaz Rekabi – who caused controversy by competing in an international contest without a headscarf – returned home to cheering supporters.
Sadaf Khadem became the first Iranian woman to contest an official boxing match three years ago in France and was hoping to lead the way in the Islamic Republic.
However, she cancelled her return home after an arrest warrant was issued against her. The 27-year-old has since settled in western France, launching her own clothing brand and taking up business studies.
Khadem said she has been following the controversy surrounding Rekabi, who has reiterated comments to state media that she climbed without a hijab unintentionally.
“I don’t agree with the street protests as a strategy because the government in Iran is so strong. Every day they arrest people, they kill people. I fear for their lives. I hope it will work but I’m not very optimistic,” Khadem told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that she had called for “a cyber revolution” instead.
“I know that speaking out against the Iranian government is a very dangerous activity. That’s why I said nothing for three years, I was fearing for my family’s safety.”
Khadem said she now believes it is her responsibility to speak out, following the death last month of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s morality police.
Amini was detained for “inappropriate attire” and her death prompted nationwide protests during which women have removed and burned headscarves.
The protests have grown into one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution, though the unrest does not appear to be close to toppling the system.
Rekabi’s situation therefore got increased attention but Khadem said her status as a national athlete was likely protecting her.
Iranian female athletes had to live with an extra weight on their shoulders, said Khadem.
“A high-level female athlete in Iran is always stressed,” she said. “When I did my first fight I did not think about boxing. I was stressed about my return home. Why is it like this? We just want to safely live a normal life.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)