Husband of Iran’s ski coach bars her from leaving country

Iran ski coach Samira Zargari
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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — When the husband of Iran’s Alpine ski team coach took advantage of a local law and barred his wife from leaving the country, Samira Zargari picked up her phone and continued coaching remotely.

Zargari called her four racers three times Thursday while they competed in the women’s giant slalom at the world championships in Italy — before the race, between runs and after the event was finished.

“Always I (am) proud of all Iranian girls,” Zargari said in a text message exchange with The Associated Press. “I love them.”

The 37-year-old Zargari said that her husband is now in a relationship with her best friend and that he requested she consent to a divorce.

“I didn’t and he blocked me,” Zargari said, adding that her husband is “always laughing (at) my job and my team.”

The couple was together for five years, said Zargari, who was writing from the Shemshak ski resort. She said her husband was born in the United States and is a citizen of both the U.S. and Iran.

Under Iranian law, husbands can stop their wives from traveling outside of the country.

Zargari said she wanted to launch a “campaign” to change the law.

“I’m so sad and I can’t believe it,” Zargari said, adding that she was seeking help from the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The FIS said in a statement to the AP that it “sympathizes with any team member who is not able to travel to our world championships. However, FIS is also not in a position to dispute the laws of any given nation.”

Forough Abbasi, one of the skiers on Zargari’s team, spoke out about her coach’s plight.

“It’s not the first time,” Abbasi said. “We had the same problem before this. But I wish we can change it — all the women in Iran, all together, I wish we could change it. We are trying. I’m sure the strong women can for sure change these rules and she will be stronger than before. We are proud of her, really.”

Abbasi finished nearly 25 seconds behind American favorite Mikaela Shiffrin, the first-run leader, but was pleased just to have completed her run.

Abbasi said her coach is a “really a strong woman” and that she’s “sure she can be more stronger from that.”

Zargari is not the first married athlete whose husband prevented her from leaving Iran. In 2015, soccer player Niloufar Ardalan missed the Asian Cup tournament in futsal — an indoor version of soccer — after her husband confiscated her passport in a domestic dispute.

Women’s sports largely disappeared from Iran after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Over time, however, they gained in popularity, especially soccer. Social customs still come into the game, though, as the country’s soccer team plays its matches with players’ hair covered by traditional headscarves, or hijabs.

Two Islamic countries make the headscarf mandatory for women in public — Iran and Saudi Arabia. FIFA overturned a yearlong ban against players wearing hijabs in 2012.

Abbasi — one of eight Iranians (four women and four men) competing in Cortina — said she is free to drive, travel, train and race in Iran.

“Everything is free to us,” she said. “There is some rules like this but it’s not for everyone. In Iran maybe in a 1,000 women, one of them has a problem. … Even my coach. She’s really a free woman. She was all over the world. She’s traveling all the time. This time this happened. … But for sure it will be changed.”

Still, Abbasi said the government prevents her from taking on certain jobs and that she has to work as a ski instructor to support her skiing career.

“I really want to stay in Iran and change the rules — change something that is stopping athletes, not just women,” she said. “The boys can’t buy equipment. It’s the same for everyone.”

Zargari added that while the law enabling a husband to block his wife’s passport is a “problem,” she still loves her country.

Sarah Schleper, the former U.S. Ski Team racer who now represents Mexico, has gotten to know Zargari over the years.

“She’s easy going, just cares a lot about her kids, her athletes,” Schleper said. “She’s just like a normal girl, just looking to ski fast and do the best for her team.”

Zargari coached Iran at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and last year’s Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“Maybe these things have to happen so it really does change,” Schleper added, pointing out how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire world. “We are all kind of in it together. We are all here on earth. We’ve got to do it together.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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