TEHRAN (AFP) – An Iranian woman has claimed that the authorities in the Islamic republic have denied her a free water swimming record after saying that her costume failed to meet the standards of sharia law.
Elham Asghari, 32, who also teaches swimming, says she swam 18 kilometres (just over 11 miles) in eight hours in the Caspian Sea in northern Iran on June 11 off a "women only" beach.
The sports ministry refused to approve the record, saying she was not wearing an approved costume under sharia (Islamic) law, Asghari said in a video posted on YouTube after the swim.
"I had an Islamic dress and I went into the sea with the permission of the (swimming) federation," Asghari was also quoted as saying by Bahar newspaper on June 26.
But a representative of the federation refused to certify her record, saying "the deputy sports minister told him that her costume was not suitable for free water swimming".
Asghari says during her swim she was wearing a suit, a hat, and headscarf -- "clothes that weigh six pounds when soaked in water".
Women in Iran, regardless of nationality or religion, are required to cover their hair and body and to avoid heavy make-up and nail polish.
They are also banned from stadiums, and can only attend women-only competitions.
While Asghari has gained support from thousands of fans on Facebook, her version of events is disputed by the authorities.
"There was no representative (of the federation) and it is unclear if she really swam 18 kilometres," Shahrnaz Vernoos, adviser for women's affairs in the federation, was quoted as saying on family website Mehrkhane.com.
"Female free water swimming is contrary to the rules of the ministry of sports and youth," Vernoos said, without specifying what the rules were, and adding: "For three years there has been no competition."
Reza Habibi of the federation's technical committee said "there are no records recognised in free water swimming".
He also said the distance claimed by Asghari is not recognised by the international federation which acknowledges swims of five, 10, 15 and 25 kilometres.
"What she has done is a personal act without coordinating with the federation and the ministry," he said.
But Asghari has vowed to fight on.
"I won't give up," she wrote on Facebook as her supporters backed her, with one writing: "Neveeeeeeeer give up your are a strong woman, we are by your side".