Women defy Tehran’s last minute marathon ban

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Tehran hosts its first international marathon
01:33 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Hundreds of runners participated in “TehRUN” – the Iranian capital’s first international marathon – on Friday, but many were left disappointed after authorities reportedly denied US citizens visas and prohibited women from taking part in the full race.

The race was organized by Dutchman Sebastiaan Straten, who told CNN he saw the event as an opportunity for Iran to “build bridges” with the international community and break down stereotypes.

But after months of “tedious” preparation and grappling with Iran’s “challenging political climate,” Straten’s dream crumbled.

Not only that: the organizer himself was prevented from entering Iran for “unclear reasons,” despite having been granted a visa.

Same old story?

Perhaps Straten shouldn’t have been surprised by the challenges faced by the Tehran race.

Last year, his travel company Iran Silk Road – which organizes tours of Iran – held a similar marathon in the Iranian city of Persepolis, which women were blocked from participating in due to the country’s religious customs.

This year, the I Run Iran event website said 442 runners from over 45 countries, including Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Britain, had registered for the Tehran marathon. It listed 28 Americans among those – although according to Straten, some US citizens were denied visas – and many women were allowed to register.

But once again female participation proved a controversial point in the Muslim nation.

Chinese participants attend the first international Tehran marathon at Azadi Square in Tehran on April 7, 2017.

Women hold their own unofficial race

Initially female runners believed they would be able to participate in the 26-mile (42-kilometer) race, although the event website made it clear they would need to wear a headscarf or sports bandana covering their hair, long-sleeved shirts that came down over their hips, and avoid shorts.

But in the weeks prior to the event, their status became a point of confusion, with organizers unable to confirm whether or not they would be able to run at all.

“I sincerely regret the promises I had made to female runners that they would be able to run, and (to) the US and UK runners who were very motivated that were not able to secure their visas,” Straten told CNN.

Women held their own unofficial marathon after learning they could only participate in a 10km "ladies run."