A handful of women ignored Iranian orders by running Teheran marathon outdoors alongside men

Iranian female runners gather at the Azadi Square during the First International Marathon Persian Run Tehran 2017 in Tehran, Iran, on April 7, 2017.
Iranian female runners gather at the Azadi Square during the First International Marathon Persian Run Tehran 2017 in Tehran, Iran, on April 7, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Backed by the Dutch organiser of what was billed as Iran's first international marathon, a group of women ran alongside men outdoors on Friday (April 7), ignoring orders by an Iranian government official requiring female runners to complete their course apart from men off the streets in a nearby stadium.

"As an organiser, I did not accept that," Sebatiaan Straten, the Dutchman who organised the event through his group I Run Iran, told The Washington Post.

"Female runners had 10K route outside the stadium with same start and finish as male race." Straten said a small number of women also decided to run the full 42km race alongside men, including Chinese runner Wu Juan.

That these women chose to run outdoors with men is technically against the law in Iran, which requires men and women to compete apart from each other since the country's 1979 revolution. There are even laws that ban women from watching men's sporting events in person and vice versa.

Despite what appears to have been a giant step forward at the Teheran marathon on Friday, however, women were still required to uphold strict wardrobe rules during the run that requires them to cover their bodies save for their faces, hands and feet. Men, meanwhile, wore standard running gear, including shorts and tank tops.

It is unclear whether the women who ran outside will face any repercussions from Iran's conservative government.

The order that women run the marathon apart from men came down this week from the head of Iran's track and field federation, Majid Keyhani, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

"Personally, I do not agree with that," Straten told the AP at the time, noting "We are trying to find other ways to make step(s) for female running in Iran."

While Iranian women continue to fight for more equal rights to participate and watch sporting events in the country, Iran largely still sticks closely to its post-revolution traditions, especially regarding its wardrobe rules.

In February, the country's chess federation kicked teenage chess prodigy Dorsa Derakhshani off the national team for competing without a hijab at the Gibraltar Chess Festival.

"Unfortunately, what shouldn't have happened has happened," Pahlevanzadeh told the Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency at the time (via Radio Free Europe). "Our national interests have priority over everything."

That reputation may be why the marathon failed to attract as many women as men.

According to the AP, of the 600 Iranian runners who registered for the race, only 156 were women.

Meanwhile, the AP reports "at least 160 foreign runners" had also agreed to participate, including 50 women. However, because of problems regarding the procurement of visas for Americans, as well as some other nationalities, several of those runners could not gain access to the country to participate in the race.

This is the second race Straten has organised, but the first one women in which could officially participate. He organised a race in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz in April 2016 that he considered a success.

While that race banned women altogether, two female runners decided to run anyway in protest. Masoumeh Torabi and Elham Manoocheri both appear to have avoided arrest for their participation. They also earned accolades from Straten at the time.

"Both have shown and proven that Iranian women can run in Iran," he told Runners World last year. "We hope many Iranian women will follow in their footsteps in next editions!"