By Shima Shahrabi
December 1, 2017
Photographs of a man in hijab attending the Women’s Asian KabaddiChampionship have showed up everywhere online since Tuesday, November 28. The covered man is Samparach Fontu, the coach of Thailand’s Women’s National Kabaddi Team, who covered his head with both a black shawl and either a white scarf or white towel so that he could sneak onto the court to lead his team.
The coach of the Thai women’s Kabaddi team wore a headscarf so he could coach his team during the competition. (IranWire)
Kabbadi is a contact sport that originated in India. The game involves two teams of seven players that score by raiding each other’s side of the court and tagging as many players from the other team as possible. Plays must happen within a single breath, and the charging player chants “Kabaddi, Kabaddi, Kabaddi!” as he or she attempts to tag opponents.
The Kabbadi competitions are currently being held in the northern Iranian city of Gorgan. Prior to the competition beginning, the Iranian Kabaddi Federation had announced that the participating teams must obey the laws of the Islamic Republic and, therefore, no men could be present during women’s competitions. So it would appear that the Thai coach decided the only way he could get into the competition was by covering his head and pretending to be a woman.
The widely shared photographs of Samparach Fontu with his head covered have once again reignited arguments — as well as satirical snipes — about the practice of mandatory hijab in the Islamic Republic and the laws that enshrine it.
IranWire talked to Abuzar Markolaei, the director of public relations for Iran’s Kabaddi Federation, about the photographs and the scandal.
What can you tell our readers about the photographs of the male Thai coach at the competition, despite rules forbidding men from attending the game?
We sent the rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic to nine countries that are participating in the competitions beside Iran. All these countries have observed and respected these laws and the competition was held without any problems. The Thai team has only one coach for both men and women and this gentleman entered the court to coach his team. He was immediately escorted out by the security guards.
This is all there was to it. He was inside only for a few minutes and the pictures were taken during those few minutes.
Two different photos of him have been circulated. Was he at two events?
The picture with the black shawl was taken from a distance. In the second picture, he has a towel over his head. Gorgan has been rainy over the last few days. If you look carefully at the picture with the white towel, you will see a blonde woman in the background. This picture was taken when there was no game going on. He came in when there was no game and waited until the women’s turn came.
The court was the same for both the men’s and women’s competitions. The competitions took place at Gorgan’s Imam Khomeini center. First the men competed and when they left it was the women’s turn. In such a situation, if I were a male coach for both [male and female] teams I might hide myself in the restroom or the canteen or some other place during the men’s game and come out when the women’s game is going on so that I could help my team from the courtside.
The federation cannot check every place to see if anybody is hiding, but when he was found out, security escorted him out.
Why wasn’t he allowed to coach his team and why was he wearing a scarf?
Because we had told them to assign only female coaches and supervisors for the women’s teams. According to Iranian laws, no man can attend the competitions when women’s teams are competing, and women must come to Iran [wearing] Islamic dress and hijab. These are the laws of the Islamic Republic and there is nothing strange about it. All these teams that came to Iran, they all observed the dress codes and other regulations. It was not a big deal.
Among the teams, those from Iran, Pakistan and Iraq were from Muslim countries. Teams from other countries were [dressed] as they normally are. But they did obey the laws. There was only one person who wanted to bypass the law, and he was taken care of.
You say that athletes from Muslim countries were wearing hijab and the rest of the teams were following their own customs. Then why were men not allowed in when these other teams were playing?
Well, these are the laws of the Islamic Republic. When we say that no man can enter, we cannot very well make exceptions. For example, we cannot have a proviso that says that we must allow men when non-Iranian women [without hijab] are playing. This cannot be done. If we do this we must put a stop to women’s sports — because soon enough somebody would come and say that this happened or that happened, and how can we prove otherwise?
We announced the laws. We put them on our website and our Telegram channel. We informed [the teams] in writing, too. And everybody observed the laws and things proceeded well. This was a mistake by one man. I am sorry that he did not respect Iranian laws.
But now the international community is making judgements about the pictures.
Right now we are talking to the World Kabaddi Federation through the Iranian Kabaddi Federation, saying that [the offender] must be suspended because he did not respect the host country’s laws. We are also talking to the Thai embassy in Iran to take action against him, because we believe that this happened because of the mistake of one person, i.e., the coach of the Thai team, who did not respect our laws.