Sport in Iran

Azadi Football Stadium is the biggest venue for Iranian football. It is also the world's fourth largest soccer stadium.

Many sports are practiced in Iran, both traditional and modern. Tehran, for example, was the first city in West Asia to host the Asian Games in 1974, and continues to host and participate in major international sporting events to this day. Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Iran's national sport, however today, football is the most popular sport in Iran. Because of economic sanctions, the annual government's budget for sport was about $80 million in 2010 or about $1 per person.[1]


Sports and athletic exercises were among the most fundamental daily pursuits of the people in Ancient Iran.

The society attached special status to sportsmen who thanks to their physical strength and courage, defended their family and homeland when the need arose.

They were welcomed everywhere with much enthusiasm, the people took much pride in their sportsmen and praised and admired them for their courageous deeds.

According to their religious teaching, the Iranian Zoroastrians in their prayers sought first the beauties of heaven and then physical strength and mental power. They believed in a healthy and powerful body.

The ancient Iranians attached spiritual meaning to their spoils activities which they modeled on their weapons. Even the Mages (religious sages) while engaging in prayers in their temples held a mace in their hands, not unlike the British bishops who hung swords on their belts...

Avesta, the sacred book of the ancient religions of Iran glorifies the champions and sportsmen as much, if not more than saints and men of God. The older generation made arrangements for the ancient narratives and epics to be read to the young either from books or from those who had learned them from their elders.

This tradition has survived until today and outlived the rest of ages. Thus, even today, it can be observed that among the tribes and in the tea houses storytelling is practiced with the same enthusiasm as it was in bygone ages.

The extent to which the Iranians were interested in their heroes and champions is revealed, among other things, by the fact that in the Persian language there are over 30 words to label the concept of a hero or champion.

In Ancient Iran, youths under 24 years of age received thorough training in the sport of their time which included miming, horsemanship, polo, dart throwing, wrestling, boxing, archery, and fencing. They were taught under conditions of severe hardship so that when the need arose they could endure the adverse conditions of war such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, heat, cold, etc.

As of 2015, only 20 percent of Iranians are physically active while the world average is 60 percent.[2]

2012 Olympics

Iran has achieved a significant victory in London 2012 Olympics. Iranian Team has won 12 medals including 4 Gold Medals. This is the best performance of a Middle Eastern or a South Asian country ever in the history of Summer Olympics.


See also: Women in Iran

Since 1979, women athletes have been subject to strict requirements when competing in Iran or abroad, with the Iranian Olympic Committee stating that "severe punishment will be meted out to those who do not follow Islamic rules during sporting competitions". The committee banned women athletes from competing in Olympic events where a male referee could come into physical contact with them.[3] At the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics combined, a total of six women represented Iran.

In 2016, Iran made global headlines for international female champions boycotting tournaments in Iran in chess (U.S. Woman Grandmaster Nazi Paikidze)[4][5] and in shooting (Indian world champion Heena Sidhu)[6] because they refused to enter a country where they would be forced to wear a hijab to compete in their sports.

Iran sport organization

Sports categories

The annual government's budget for sport was about $80 million in 2010 or about $1 per person.[1]

Traditional sports


Bodybuilding in Iran is very popular among the younger generation. Some professional bodybuilders of Iranian descent include Javad Nabavi, Mohamad Farokh, Ali Tabrizi, Hamid Manafi and Zohair Al Karbelaie ("Arnold" of Fallah)!


Main article: Wrestling in Iran

Wrestling has a very long tradition and history in Iran and often even referred to as its national sport. There are many styles of folk wrestling, from Varzesh-e Pahlavani to Zurkhaneh which have similarities with modern freestyle wrestling.

Both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, particularly freestyle, are popular in Iran. Mazandaran is the main power in the country and wrestling is part of its culture. Tehran, Kermanshah, Khorasan and Hamedan also produce many talented wrestlers.

With a history of great wrestlers, such as Gholamreza Takhti (two-time champion at freestyle wrestling World Championships: 1959 and 1961), Iran is considered among the elite nations in this sport.


Main article: Polo

It is believed that Polo first originated in Persia ages ago. The poet Firdowsi described royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, the Shahnameh. Polo competitions are the subject of many traditional paintings in Iran.

Despite the emphasis in Islam on learning the equestrian arts, in modern times, especially after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the equestrian sports fell out of favor in Iran, as they were associated with the aristocracy. However, recent signs suggest that it may be witnessing a comeback,[7] with renewed interest in the sport.

Horse racing is a very popular sport between Turkmens of Iran, and there are two great Gymnasium of horse racing at Gonbad Kavous and Bandar Torkaman. Competitions are not international and not broadcast but considerable prizes are given to winners. Lottery only for horse racing (and archery) is not prohibited in Islam.

Board games

Atousa Pourkashiyan, Iranian chess Woman Grandmaster.


Main article: Chess

The origin of chess is a disputed issue, but evidence exists to give credence to the theory that chess originated in Persia, and later found its way into the Indian subcontinent. For example, the earliest recorded history of chess is to be found in Persian writing, and the earliest chess pieces found also being from Persia. All of this evidence lends weight to the theory that chess in Persia (Shatranj) pre-dated chess in India (Chatrang). Chess later spread from Persia into other nations in the Islamic world.

A billiard club in Nishapur

Association football

Main article: Football in Iran

Football is the most popular sport in Iran. Iran has been able to reach the FIFA World Cup four times (1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014), won the AFC Asian Cup three times (1968, 1972 and 1976), and four times has reached to gold medal at the Asian Games (1974, 1990, 1998 and 2002).

Particularly in the past 10 years, with the launch of Iran's Premier Football League, considerable progress has been made. Some Iranian players now play in major European leagues, and some Iranian clubs have hired European players or coaches.

Iranian clubs (Esteghlal and Pas) have three times won the Asian Club Championship (1970, 1991, 1993), but the last championship of an Iranian team at AFC Champions League dated back to the 1992-1993 season.

Like all other sports, adequate football facilities are limited in Iran. Iran's largest football stadium is the Azadi Stadium, with a seating capacity of 100,000. Home Stadium of Esteghlal and Perspolis (Most Popular Iranian Clubs) and where that national matches are held.


Hamed Haddadi, Iran's most prominent basketball player.

In basketball, Iran has a particularly strong national team, and a professional league, with competitive players in Asia. The clubs have begun hiring strong foreign players and coaches into their roster. The national team participated in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, finishing 1-3. They competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, thanks to their gold medal in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship, their first ever continental crown. The first ever Iranian NBA-player is Hamed Haddadi.


Strength sports like weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding have always held favor among Iranians and with the recent success of world record-holding super-heavyweight lifter Hossein Reza Zadeh, or Sidney Olympics gold medalist, Hossein Tavakoli, the sport has been returned to a rather high status.


Gondola lift carry skiers and other visitors to Tochal mountain near Tehran.

Iran is home to numerous mountainous regions, many of which are suitable for skiing, and snowboarding and are gaining increasing popularity among foreign visitors.

Skiing began in Iran in 1938 through the efforts of two German railway engineers. Today, 13 ski resorts operate in Iran, the most famous being Tochal, Dizin, and Shemshak. All are within one to three hours traveling time of Tehran. Potentially suitable terrain can also be found in Lorestan, Mazandaran, and other provinces.

The Tochal resort is the world's fifth-highest ski resort at over 3,730 m at its highest Seventh station. The resort was completed in 1976 shortly before the overthrow of the Shah. It is only 15 minutes away from Tehran's northern districts, and operates seven months a year. Here, one must first ride the 8 km (5.0 mi) long gondola lift which covers a huge vertical. The Seventh station has three slopes. The resort's longest slope is the south side U shaped slope which goes from the Seventh station to Fifth station. The other two slopes are located on the north side of the Seventh station. Here, there are two parallel chair ski lifts that go up to 3,900 m near Tochal's peak (at 4,000 m), rising higher than the gondola Seventh station stations. This altitude is said to be higher than any of the European resorts.

From the Tochal peak, one has a spectacular view of the Alborz range, including the 5,610 metres (18,406 ft) high Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano.

At the bottom of the lifts in a valley behind the Tochal peak is Tochal hotel, located at 3,500 m altitude. From there a T lift takes skiers up the 3,800 metres of Shahneshin peak, where the third slope of Tochal is.

Hiking and climbing sports

Hikers flock to trails like Tangeh Savashi which leads to several waterfalls in a remote part of the Alborz range.

Due to the wealth of mountains, climbing sports are widely popular in Iran. Both the Zagros and Alborz ranges provide plenty of opportunities for the novice and advanced alike.

Hiking and trekking enthusiasts find opportunities in locations like Alamut and Tangeh Savashi to enjoy the rustic surroundings, as well as a relatively challenging climb.

Martial arts

Martial arts have gained popularity in Iran in the past 20 years. Kyokushin, shotokan, wushu, and taekwondo are the most popular.


Iran national volleyball team in Rio, Brazil 2016. Olympic games

In volleyball, Iran has a national team, and a professional league. The Iran national volleyball team is among the strongest teams in the world, and the Iranian Youth and Junior (Under-19 and Under-21) national teams are among the top three strongest teams in the world, winning medals in Boys' U19 Volleyball World Championship and Men's U21 Volleyball World Championship in recent years. In the 2007 Men's U21 Volleyball World Championship, the Iranians were successful at earning a bronze medal. Also, in late August 2007, the Iran national under-19 volleyball team surprised many by winning the gold medal in the Volleyball World Championship in Mexico, after beating France and China in the semi-finals and finals respectively and marking the first such international gold medal for an Iranian team sport.


Main article: Futsal in Iran

Futsal is practiced both at the amateur and professional level, partly because of lacking suitable soccer fields. The Iran national futsal team, that presently is the fourth strongest national team after Brazil, Spain and Italy according to the FIFA Rankings.

This team has won the AFC Futsal Championship nine times out of the ten times held and reached five times to FIFA Futsal World Cup. Iran also has a nationwide Super Futsal League.


The tennis entertainer Mansour Bahrami is Iranian, as well as his tennis partner Ramin Raziyani.

Other sports

Another popular sport in Iran is rallying. Female drivers have been allowed to participate in national rally tournaments, including Iran's successful female driver Laleh Seddigh.

Attendance at sporting events

Further information: Women in Iran

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, though never explicitly declared in the law, women were barred from attending football matches. In April 2006, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speculated about allowing women back into the stadiums.[8] It is uncertain if this measure would gain approval, since many hard-line clerics have voiced their opposition.[9] However, women are generally free to attend indoor sports events. 30% of Iranian youths never play any sports.

See also


  1. 1 2
  2. Vast majority of Iranians don't get regular exercise Radio Zamaneh, June 14, 2015. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  3. Iran: Women excluded from sports in the name of Islam. ADNKronos International (2007-12-19). Retrieved on 2010-02-23.
  4. "The 22-year-old chess star boycotting Iran World Championships over hijab". BBC. 5 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  5. "'I will NOT wear a hijab': U.S. chess star refuses to attend world championships in Iran". Washington Post. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  6. "Shooter Heena Sidhu withdraws from tournament in Iran, says won't wear hijab". thenewsminute. 29 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  7. "Polo comes back home to Iran". 22 September 2005 via
  8. BBC: Sporting chance for Iranian women, 24 April 2006
  9. Frances Harrison, BBC: Iran clergy angry over women fans, 26 April 2006
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