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Women Banned from Iran Marathon to ‘Unite Humanity’

Iran will hold its first ever “limited edition” running marathon on April 9 in an attempt to “unite humanity” and improve the Islamic Republic’s image in the West. Women are forbidden from participating.

The idea for “I run Iran” came from Sebastian Straten, 42, a Dutch entrepreneur and former backpacker who has dedicated his life to creating a better relationship between Iran and the West. According to Iranian media outlet Mehr News Agency, Straten seeks to achieve this by way of his Iran Silk Road Company through which he invests in and organizes tours and events like the one this April, with the ultimate goal of reviving the old Iran Silk Road as a place where travelers hailing from all over the globe can meet.

In a recent interview with Mehr, Straten said he fell for Iran in 2005 during a backpacking trip of the ancient Silk Road route which began in Istanbul and ended in Kashmir. He told Mehr that he expects the marathon will “have a positive impact on the image the West has of Iran. It is more than a marathon. It is opening the Persian gates to tourism, to show the real beauty and treasures of Iran.”

Straten also noted that women will not be allowed to participate in this first marathon, which will begin at the city gate of Shiraz and finish in the legendary city of Persepolis, which was the ancient capital city of the historic Persian Empire.

Unfortunately, women are not allowed to run this first limited edition. There are many [Iranian] women who like to run and we hope in the next edition we get the permission for women to run the marathon. The marathon is a way to bring running to the attention of a large young Iranian population.

Iran has barred women from participating in and being spectators in sporting events in the past. Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian law student, was jailed for attempting to watch an all-men volleyball match between Iran and Italy in June of 2014.

Following international outcry and protest over Ghavami’s detainment, the government of Iran announced that they would be “experimenting” with allowing a select number of women to watch the Volleyball World League games in Tehran this past June.

As of Wednesday, nearly 200 runners have registered from 39 different countries on the “I run Iran” registration page. There are 28 runners from Iran, 23 from the United States, 15 from England and France each, 4 from Canada, and 1 from both India and Pakistan so far. A total of 400 spots are available.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.

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