“Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Council” from the International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports

(c) Berkshire 2001

The Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Council (ICWSSC) was formed by Islamic women to encourage women’s participation in both national sports activities and international sports competition, but doing so while continuing to adhere to Islamic beliefs and practices.

Many in the Islamic world have believed it difficult, perhaps impossible, to maintain the proper dignity and the obligations of their religion and still have Muslim women participate in international and Olympic sports events. In fact, under Islamic law, male and female athletes may not participate together, a rule that has severely restricted Muslim nations’ ability to participate in international events. It was, therefore, the goal of Fa’ezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to create an atmosphere that promoted women’s sports within the structures of Muslim life. Her involvement was based on her conviction that sports play a key role in life today; serve as a means to achieve political, cultural, and economic progress; and constitute an important part of the social infrastructure. Additionally, in accord with Islamic values, she argued that any action that may help reach perfection in belief and action is valuable and that Muslims demand a sound atmosphere in which to promote women’s sports based on Islamic and humanitarian precepts.

With these in mind and also with the desire to respect the objectives of the international Olympic movement, Hashemi convened the first Islamic Countries’ Sports Solidarity Congress for Women on 18 October 1991 in Tehran, Iran. More than forty delegates from Bahrain, Benin, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Cameroon, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Fiji, Gambia, Sudan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Libya, Burkina Faso, Brunei, and Iran participated in a meeting that had been sanctioned by religious leaders. The participants identified three primary goals. First, to establish and strengthen solidarity among the women of Islamic Countries. Second, to develop and expand competitive sport within the framework of Islamic life. And, third to spread a sports culture among youth. During the Congress representatives exchanged views on the necessity and importance of women’s sport in Islamic culture. They also discussed the effects of sports on the physical and psychological health of women; the effects of sports on women’s health in the family; women, sports, and the economy; and violence in sports and its harmful effects on women.

The Congress planned a second congress to be held in the spring of 1992 and set the first Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Games for February 1993 and set forth the following agenda:

(1) More emphasis should be given to supporting Muslim countries’ women’s sports at the international level.

(2) Taking the importance of sports in Islamic society into consideration, women’s sport should be placed within the specific framework of rules for Muslim women.

(3) Sports activities, as they are needed to strengthen human relations among women in Islamic countries, should be expanded.

(4) A committee should be set up from the representatives of the Islamic countries to draw up the statutes and executive by-laws.

(6) The Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation should become more involved in sports for women.

(7) Each year or every other year, the Islamic Countries’ Sports Solidarity Congress for Women would be held in one of the Islamic countries.

(8) The “Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Games” would be held in October 1992 in all sports; however, only in those sports with at least four entries would competitions actually be held.

(9) The proposals should be forwarded to National Organizing Committees of the Islamic Countries for their views.

(10) The declarations of the Congress should be sent to the leaders of the Islamic nations to obtain their support.

During the Congress, Hashemi was unanimously elected president of the Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Council (ICWSSC). On 13 February 1993, she welcomed participants from eleven countries to the first Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Games, held in Tehran, Iran. Athletes from Iran, Bahrain, the Maldives, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan competed in badminton, volleyball, handball, basketball, table tennis, shooting, swimming, and track and field.

The events were staged in accordance with Islamic principles: “to create unity amongst Islamic countries and to preserve this unity based on religious principles.” In order “to observe the holy Shariah (Islamic Law) of Islam and to use sport as a means toward attaining the transcendent objectives of Islam,” the following rules governed the competition. The coaches, officials, technicians, and executive personnel present at the events were all women, with men prohibited from the Games Village except during the opening ceremonies. Traditional hijab dress (clothing that covers most of the body and hair) was worn by the women in the presence of men at all times. Hijab was worn by the torch carrier and by all women during the opening and closing ceremonies and during any press conferences and interviews. When men were absent, women athletes did compete in more modern athletic uniforms. A program of drug testing was initiated. Dame Mary Alison Hague of England, a representative of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) observed the overall competition, and Mary Benaham, a basketball delegate from Ireland, observed the basketball games. They reported that the games met international standards. The nations that won the most medals were Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

Following the success of these events, the Islamic Countries’ Women Sports Solidarity Council continued to organize itself and prepare for the second Games to be held in 1997 in Pakistan. Delegates from twenty Islamic countries met on 24 April 1994 in Isfahan, Iran, to revise and expand the charter and mission of the ICWSSC, as follows:

Article 1: The National Olympic Committees or national women sports governing bodies may apply for membership in the Council.

Article 2: The seat of the Council shall be established in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran on a permanent basis.

Article 3: The objectives of the Council are:

a. To ensure the observance of the Islamic Principles and Criterion in the Women’s Sports Games.

b. To reinforce the bonds of solidarity existing amongst women in the member countries and to promote the Islamic identity of women in the sports arenas.

c. To promote the principles of non-discrimination as to race and social class in conformity with the precepts of Islam.

d. To promote hygiene, and to preserve the balance of spirit in women in the member countries.

e. To promote sport culture among youths in the member countries within the framework of Islamic values.

f. To endeavor toward development of “Sports for all” in the member countries.

g. To promote cooperation among member countries on matters of common interest in all fields of sports activities.

h. To facilitate bilateral and/or multilateral meets among women’s sports team of the member countries.

Article 4: In order to fulfill the aforesaid objectives, the Council will:

Hold women’s sports competition in accordance with executive rules consistent with the holy Shariah of Islam among the affiliated countries every four years, which will be called “the Islamic Countries’ Women Sports Solidarity Games.”

A structure was developed for the Council which called for an executive committee composed of the president, three vice-presidents, a secretary-general, a treasurer, and chairpersons of the following committees: technical and regulation, information and statistics, sports medicine, sports development and improvement, and finance.

In 1994, during the fifth General Assembly of ICWSSC, the sports development committee discussed and evaluated some of their major activities. Under the directorship of Shokoh Navabinejad of Iran, and with the participation of women delegates from Bahrain, Bangladesh, Iran, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kuwait, Morocco, and men from Tanzania and Bangladesh, the committee reviewed a research questionnaire developed to survey the status of women’s sports in Islamic countries. The committee also reviewed an assessment of the need for women referees and coaches, and discussed the establishment of training classes.

Navabinejad also wrote a “Comparative Survey on Athletes Participating in the First Islamic Countries’ Women Sports Solidarity Games,” based on a survey of over 300 athletes who participated in the first games. The survey compared the athletes of the Central Asia Republics, who won the most medals in the events, with the athletes of Iran and the other countries. She found that the winners had started their athletic careers at an earlier age, spent twice the time training as had the other athletes, and had greater experience representing their respective national teams.

Navabinejad made several suggestions to develop long-term planning for women’s sports programs in Islamic countries. She noted that schools are the primary site for discovering talented children and young adults with potential for competitive sports. Talented girls should be offered the regular training necessary to develop their potential. To further promote the competitive performances of national teams, weekly training sessions should be increased, and new opportunities created for female athletes to take part in national and international competitions.

The sixth executive board meeting of ICWSSC was held in Kuwait on 10 June 1997. Hashemi commented that the ICWSSC was broadening its activities: “As Iran was the founder of this movement so till now all the programs and assemblies of the Council during these years have been held in Iran, organizing these sessions out of Iran is considered a great success for the council. An international movement shall be more successful and better when its activities extend to all its member countries and so organizing this session in Kuwait is considered as a turning point in the council’s activities which will be recorded in Muslim’s Women’s Sport’s history.”

The executive board also reviewed the work of the training committee of ICWSSC on to training coaches and referees and established guidelines for their certification. Participants in the training programs must be “women who believe in Islam,” have passed health exams, be nominated from a sports organization in a concerned country, and have active experience in their respective sports. For those candidates without a B.A. or a higher degree in physical education, a curriculum was designed to offer instruction in the both the practice and basic theory of coaching principles. It included sixty hours of practical training sessions and course work in first aid, general physiology and anatomy, and sports hygiene.

In the face of Pakistani objections to the Games, the sixth executive board meeting of ICWSSC approved the transfer of the second Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Games from Pakistan back to Tehran, to take place on 12 December 1997, with competition in twelve sports. The group also voted to hold the sixth General Assembly of ICWSSC at the same time as the Games.

The number of participating countries increased from eleven in 1993 to twenty-five in 1997. More than 300 referees supervised competitions in badminton, shooting, table tennis, tennis, track and field, gymnastics, swimming, chess, karate, volleyball, handball, and basketball. Some 792 athletes from Sudan, Tajikistan, Fiji, the Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Bosnia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Syria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Yemen, Indonesia, Niger, Guinea, Bangladesh, and Gabon participated, while Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait sent representatives.

With the success of the two Islamic Women’s Games and the expansion of participation from the first to the second games, the ICWSSC has emerged as the primary women’s sports organization in the Muslim world. Its future plans include continuing to work for the expansion of women’s sports at all levels of society, insuring that women’s sports participation conforms to the tenets of Islamic law, and scheduling future women’s games.

Berkshire Publishing Group (with the assistance of the Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Council)

See also Indonesia, Iran, Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sports Solidarity Games, Syria