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Women Athletes Outnumber Men in Top Sports Disciplines in Iran

September 12, 2023

Despite the Islamic republic’s restrictions, the number of female athletes in Iran is greater than that of males in the top 13 sports disciplines, including volleyball, handball, equestrian sports, swimming, taekwondo, and track and field.

Ministry of Sports and Youth statistics, as reported in the Statistical Yearbook of the Statistical Center of Iran, indicate that there are approximately 2,560,000 athletes in Iran who are members of 51 sports federations. Among them, there are 1,592,000 male athletes and 923,000 female athletes.

According to the data, football is the most popular organized sport, with nearly 634,000 athletes, or approximately a fourth of the total number of athletes. Following football, bodybuilding and weightlifting (with around 277,000 athletes), outdoor fitness (approximately 246,000 athletes), volleyball (around 164,000 athletes), gymnastics (around 147,000 athletes), karate (around 123,000 athletes), taekwondo (around 120,000 athletes), and wrestling (around 119,000 athletes) are among the most popular sports. 

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Equestrian sports, hockey, and fencing have the lowest number of athletes, with 272,901, and 1,248 athletes respectively.

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Despite significant limitations placed on Iranian women, such as compulsory hijab, they constitute approximately 36% of the total number of athletes.

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In recent years, women have succeeded in reaching higher participation levels in some of the country’s most popular sports, such as volleyball, handball, taekwondo, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, badminton, equestrian sports, and outdoor fitness.

Due to some legal restrictions, the participation of women in popular sports like football and wrestling is severely restricted. Iranian women could potentially have international success in these sports.

The proportion of female football players to the total number of football players is less than 4%, and the proportion of female wrestlers to the total number of wrestlers is only 0.6%.

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*According to the official definition, athletes are considered members of organized sports if they are covered by the medical insurance of a specific sports federation. They must also be registered by the Sports Medicine Federation.