SHUMEN: Iranian volleyball players Maedeh Borhani (back, L) and Zeinab Giveh (back, R) warm up in the sport hall of YEB Shumen volleyball club in the city of Shumen on Saturday. Maedeh Borhani, 29, and Zeinab Giveh, 33, moved to Bulgaria last month, making history as the first Iranian female volleyball players to join a team abroad, hoping that their transfers here will encourage other players from native Iran to follow in their footsteps. — AFP

SHUMEN: Maedeh Borhani and Zeinab Giveh, the first Iranian women to play professional volleyball outside their country, are easy to recognise- they play in hijab scarves and long leggings. Islamic dress was a condition imposed by the Iranian volleyball federation when Borhani, 29, and Giveh, 33, were allowed to move to YEB Shumen in Bulgaria where they played and lost their first official match against Kazanlak on Saturday. Some opposing players have made fun of their Islamic dress. The women say they do not take the taunts seriously. Their coach Mehmed Basharan is more nervous about possible “provocations” however after rival team members posted social media pictures last week, “their heads and faces wrapped up like bedouins.”

“They want to tease us but we will not take offence. Yet, this is unnecessary, it is not fair play,” he said. Borhani and Giveh say they want to be an example to other Iranian women. “We are proud that we are the first Iranian women who can play in Europe and make history for Iran,” Borhani told AFP ahead of Saturday’s match. “One of the reasons why we wanted to come here was to open the way for other talented Iranian players to go abroad,” she said. “It was a very easy decision, like opening the door and stepping out,” Giveh, who is captain of the Iranian women’s national team, added. YEB manager Basharan, 48, said he wanted the pair as attracting players of similar class from another country would cost 10 times more. YEB are sixth in the Bulgarian league but need to be in the top four to get a place in European tournaments next year. Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in Iran but women are not allowed to attend men’s matches because of Islamic rules. Wearing the hijab and leggings is also compulsory for women during games.


Borhani said they had no problem keeping the rule in Bulgaria to get permission for the move from Iran’s volleyball federation and sports ministry. “We are here to play volleyball and our religion and its rules should not be a problem,” Borhani said. “Wearing hijab is a habit, a style that we are used to,” she added, her lipstick-covered mouth curling into a smile as she recounted how much they have been made welcome in Shumen. “When we walk in the street all people know us and we like it.” Bulgaria banned the wearing of a full face veil in public in September amid rising nationalism and a refugee influx. But the two women’s loosely tied dark blue headscarves do not turn eyes in a town like Shumen that has a large Muslim minority. Other women can be seen in the street wearing headscarves. “Life is easy and simple in Bulgaria, the weather is nice and the people are very kind,” said Giveh, adding that she felt happy. — AFP