PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Iranian Alpine skier Forough Abbasi is on a mission in Pyeongchang to prove that the country’s women enjoy more freedom than many people assume and said on Friday they are strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best athletes.
“I know everyone in the world thinks that Iranian ladies can’t be anywhere or can’t do anything, such as sports,” the 24-year-old told reporters after completing the first run of the women’s slalom.
“But really we are free in our country and we can do everything.
“So I am so happy that I’m an Iranian lady, that I’m a Muslim, and I can be in all of the races free. Everything is so fine for me.”
In a sign of changing attitudes in the country, Iranian female weightlifters last year won the right to compete internationally in a sport where its men have won seven Olympic gold medals this century.
She said that international competition has helped her forge bonds with fellow ski racers from around the world including American athletes, who hail from a country that has long been an adversary of the Middle Eastern nation.
“I love the American people so much and really, we don’t have any problem with the people,” she said. “Maybe the governments have some problems but the people really don’t have any problem.
“We love everyone around the world... Iranian people want to be friends and have peace with other countries.”
Abbasi said she and her countrymen back home were offended when South Korean Olympic organisers initially refused to give Iranian athletes the gift of a free Samsung phone, citing international sanctions.
The organisers reversed course after Iran summoned South Korea’s ambassador to the Foreign Ministry over the apparent snub and demanded an apology from Samsung.
“The Iranian people became so angry. They said we will block Samsung in Iran and no one will use Samsung anymore,” she said. “They apologised to Iranian athletes and we accept it because we need the peace.”
Abbasi, who was a championship mountain bike rider prior to becoming an Alpine skier, said coming from Iran still had its disadvantages, which were on display when she came in 55th during her first run at the Yongpyong Alpine Center.
“The slope was so icy and we don’t have any ice in Iran,” she said. “It was really hard for us to train for this.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Sudipto Ganguly