30 May 2017

Clad in a hijab, fully covered, the Iranian women's table tennis team stands out in the busy Messe arena in Düsseldorf. Despite all odds, the passion lives inside, they not only participate, but they also win and they win in style.

By Neha Aggarwal

“Ask any of the foreign players to try to wear the hijab and play, I am sure they will not be able to move an inch,” challenges Maryam Samet, beautifully clad in a black hijab.

She smiles, and then quickly goes on as she realized that she just put things on stake.

“It’s so difficult playing in the hijab, and in pants and full sleeve shirts, but we respect our religion and agree to the norms. Thus we never complain. We just LOVE the game way too much to complain about anything.”- Maryam Samet

Her actions speak a million more feelings and facts than her words.

Rising graph

Last year at the 2016 World Team Table Tennis Championships at Kuala Lumpur, Iranian women created history winning the gold medal in the third division for the first time and thus were promoted to the second division. The passion and the thrill to win, clearly talks volumes about what it means for these women to win at the world stage.

The graph has been improving ever since. Last month at the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, they achieved yet another feat of winning the women’s team title for the very first time. As Neda Shahsavari, the senior most player of the team describes, “I think for us to win against the players of Chinese origin playing for Azerbaijan and Turkey was a big achievement because everyone told us that we had no chance against them. But we proved them wrong and did the impossible.”

In the finals of the women’s team event, Iran beat Azerbaijan, a team that had all three players of Chinese origin. In the semi-finals too, they overcame the team from Turkey who specially put Hu Malek, the current European Champion to compete despite her withdrawing from World Championships in Düsseldorf due to injury.

Love for the game

“For me, the best feeling in the world is the feeling of winning the gold medal for Iran. It’s really hard for us to take up sport and play it professionally due to so many rules for women, but we still fight, and I am glad that now our hard work is finally paying off,” said Shahsavari.

The girls have taken this winning feeling and the high confidence to Düsseldorf now. The girls are shy, but only off court. Watch them play, they turn into a beast.

In Düsseldorf, they move so swift, cheer loud at every point and be the best they can be at every single point.

“We love table tennis so much that we don’t expect any media attention, awards or money. It’s the passion for the game that keep the hunger alive,”- Neda Shahsavari

In Düsseldorf, the girls are taking part in women’s singles and women’s doubles, but not the mixed doubles event; they cannot play due to religious and cultural restrictions. “That is fine I guess, I would like to focus on women’s doubles, because Maryam and I have a good chemistry and have been doing well, ” clarified Shahsavari.

16 year-old Ashtari Mahshid, has qualified for the preliminary rounds in the women’s singles, and is the youngest member of the team. She is joined by 17 year-old Saba Safari, and together while playing the doubles in the main hall, they grad everyone’s attention with the loud cheers.

Clearly you cannot miss these young hijab clad, enthusiastic and passionate girls.

The passion of these girls from Iran is a testimony to the fact that when the heart really wants it, there are no barriers.

The Iranian women’s team in Baku, all smiles after the win. Photo: Fatemeh Keyvani
Liebherr 2017 World Championships Neda Shahsavari Maryam Samet

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