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Hardliners In Iran Protest Women Taking Up Ancient Men-Only Sport

Men practicing an ancient Iranian sport at a special gym called zourkhaneh at Qasr Prison on August 1, 2015. FILE PHOTO.

Iranian news agencies on Sunday reported a sit-in by "seminary students and representatives of Armed Forces" in protest to women taking up a men-only ancient sport.

In a statement the protesters said that presence of women in zurkhaneh - an ancient gym - environment is "despicable" and "a stain on the record of authorities of the Zurkhaneh Sports and Koshti Pahlavani Federation of the Islamic Republic who have allowed it.

The zurkhaneh type of ancient sports is a of training warriors that combines martial arts, wrestling, callisthenics, and strength training with heavy wooden clubs (meel) and bow-shaped iron weights to the accompaniment of rhythmic drumbeats. It is practiced in a large pit in a domed building called zurkhaneh (power house).

Those who practice the sport are required to follow an unwritten ethical code mainly based on ideas of heroism and Shiite ideology. Zurkhaneh workout is probably one of the oldest forms of bodybuilding in the world.

Young girl throwing heavy clubs in the air and catching them to the to the beat of a special drum called zarb. in Kerman

Iranian women have been campaigning to break the barriers to practice the ancient sports for at least three decades. Rayeheh Mozaffari, a Ph.D. student in sociology, journalist and women's right activist says women are determined to continue practicing the sport.

Young girl twirling to the beat of a special drum called zarb.

On June 3 Mojtaba Johari, Head of the Zurkhaneh Sports and Koshti Pahlavani Federation, told Borna News that female athletes have even acquired fatwas (religious decrees) from some marja's (religious authorities) to practice the sport. They have given their blessing as long as mixed-gender training is fully avoided.

Some men believe that the zurkhaneh is a holy place always only used by men and should remain so, he said.

Iran has registered its ancient sports on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The sport has been named Pahlevani and Zurkhaneh Rituals (heroics and zurkhaneh rituals) by UNESCO and has an international federation now.