Top Female Wrestling Officials in Iran Visit Japan on Fact-Finding Tour

By Ikuo Higuchi

TOKYO, February 27 – Top officials in Iranian women’s wrestling visited Japan recently on a fact-finding tour of the world’s leader in women’s wrestling, observing training sessions and meeting with Japanese officials.

Farnaz PANAHIZADEH (IRI), director of the Iranian wrestling federation’s international department and a member of United World Wrestling’s Women and Sport Commission, led the five-member delegation which arrived in Japan on February 20.

The delegation included members associated with the start of women’s wrestling in Iran two years ago. The delegation visited Shigakkan University near Nagoya on February 21 and toured the Ajinomoto National Training Center in Nishigaoka, Tokyo, the following day.

Iranian women are not allowed to compete in the Olympic style of women’s wrestling since, under the precepts of Islam, women are not allowed to expose their skin as would occur while wearing the international wrestling singlet.

For this reason, the women compete in belt wrestling and grappling events -- disciplines recognized by United World Wrestling -- with competitive wear including jackets and pants similar to that seen in judo.

Last September, Iran entered a full squad of women in the Belt Wrestling World Championships in Kyrgyzstan with the Iranians taking home medals in six of the 12 women’s events. The women also took part in the Grappling World Championships in Belarus later in the month.

According to Panahizadeh, there are about 100 women actively competing in wrestling in Iran with another 2,000 women throughout the nation reportedly enjoying the practice of the disciplines.

“Enthusiasm for women’s wrestling is growing. The reason we came to Japan is to study the method of training and practice environment of the strongest country in women’s wrestling in the world,” said Panahizadeh.

Asked for her thoughts on the training she observed at Shigakkan, the delegation leader remarked “Everyone there is so enthusiastic. It is like the only thing that matters is being No.1 in the world,” said Panahizadeh.

The school, former known as Chukyo Women’s University, produced all six of Japan’s entries in women’s wrestling at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, including four-time Olympic gold medalist Kaori ICHO (58kg) and Saori YOSHIDA (53kg), the winner of 16 world-level titles from 2002 to 2015.

Panahizadeh, along with one of the grappling coaches in the delegation were impressed with the intensity of the training and the sense of self-reliance in the training hall.

“We would like to see belt wrestling and grappling become more popular in Japan and, with that, we would like to create a cooperative relationship,” the director said.

Shigakkan University head coach Kazuhito SAKAE, who is also national team director for the Japan Wrestling Federation, remarked “We hope to cooperate for the development and expansion of women’s wrestling.”

On February 22, the delegation also met Japan Wrestling Federation president Tomiaki FUKUDA and suggested that wrestlers wear gear covering the entire body like that worn by speed skaters. Iran has already made a similar proposal to United World Wrestling.

“I think that if this proposal is realized, women’s wrestling will develop not only in Iran but in other Islamic countries as well,” said Panahizadeh, expressing her hope for the popularization of women’s wrestling around the world.

(Translation: William May)