Shut Up and Dribble: The IFSC has Failed Elnaz Rekabi

The International Federation of Sport Climbing Provided No Protection For Iranian Athlete Amidst the Country Crisis

Graphic Breea Kobernick

The International Federation of Sport Climbing’s spineless statements fail to live up to the courage shown by this boulder and lead finalist in the 2022 Asian Championships in Seoul.

On Saturday Oct.15, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in the women’s boulder and lead climbing finals at the 2022 Asian Championships in Seoul. She competed without a hijab amid protests in Iran surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini. In the days that followed, conflicting answers about her whereabouts and wellbeing left the public rightfully concerned. 

After radio silence from Rekabi on Monday, the IFSC released one vague official statement on Tuesday Oct. 18. This six-sentence long announcement is void of emotion, humanity and comfort, saying only that they are “fully aware of the news”, and that they will “continue to monitor the situation” as Rekabi returns to Iran. They also “support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation.” The lack of effort in this statement feels outright disrespectful to the seriousness of the situation. The federation has made no clear action to back up these claims of support 

Another statement—only 5 sentences this time— was released Oct. 19, confidently announcing that Rekabi has “safely arrived in Tehran, Iran,” while news outlets like The Guardian questioned how safe she really was. The same morning, a now unavailable Instagram story on Rekabi’s account written in first-person offered an apology for the trouble she caused, stating that her lack of hijab was an accident due to being called to climb earlier than expected. 

I’m not here to speculate on whether or not Rekabi’s lack of head covering was an accident, although she did compete in not one, but two finals without her hijab with plenty of time in between to retrieve it, but even if her statement is true it does not mean she is safe. Whether she intended it or not, Rekabi is now a symbol of the protests. 

It seems clear that her statements, as well as the statements of the Iranian government and the IFSC, cannot be taken at face value. The IFSC however, seems to have done just that. 

The IFSC have released no follow-up statements since Rekabi’s arrival in Iran, making me question just how much they are “monitoring the situation.” Their Oct. 19 statement said they “will wait for her to return to the IFSC circuit of events at the beginning of the 2023 season.” That sounds like a nice way of saying they plan on doing nothing more to protect and support the athlete. 

Other professional climbers as well as the international climbing community, have voiced their concern and support for Rekabi,  showing care for one of their own that is not matched by the organization. The IFSC has no excuse for their neutrality backed by meager well-wishes when a member of the community is clearly in danger. The climbing world is holding its breath hoping that Rekabi finds some form of protection, but it seems she won’t be getting any from the IFSC.

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 5, published October 25, 2022.