Most probably you have heard of her but how can I resist to post at least one article about Laleh?
Laleh Seddigh, born in 1977, is one of the only Iranian women race car drivers, skilled in both circuit and rally driving.
THE opportunity to compete against the boys came when a new president took over at the Iranian racing federation. In fall 2004, she petitioned the national auto racing federation for permission to compete. When it was granted, she became not only the first woman in Iran to race cars against the opposite sex, but also the first woman since the Islamic Revolution here to compete against men in any sport.
What’s more, she beat them.
Laleh laughs when asked what it feels like to stand on the winner’s podium looking down on her male competitors…Unable to suppress a laugh she says, “I just tell them they need to practice a bit more to improve”…”I like competition in everything, I have to move whatever is movable in the world.”
In March 2005, she moved the nation when she won the national championship. State television refused to show the new champ on the victory dais, but photographers captured the moment. Ms. Seddigh is a lively, energetic symbol of a whole generation of young Iranians who are increasingly testing social boundaries. 70% of Iranians are under 35, and they have gently pushed for freedoms unimaginable even a few years ago.
She admires the Formula One star Michael Schumacher – the petite Ms. Seddigh is often called “the little Schumacher” – but her real hero is her father, a wealthy factory owner. “I’ve always wanted to be like him …Basically, he’s my trainer in everything” Her mother has learned to stay out of it. “She was just crying, praying, nothing more.” Saeed Arabian, Iran’s previous national champion and now her driving coach, is proud of what she has achieved: “She is brave in asking for her rights. She will have a great future.”
When she was 13, her father taught her to drive on weekends. At 23, she began racing miniature race cars that had more in common with go-carts. She also entered three-day cross-country car rallies, in which she had to change her own tires and make her own repairs.
She has devoted her academic career to preparing to succeed her father in the family business. She received a bachelor’s degree in industrial management and a master’s in production engineering, and is now working on her Ph.D. in industrial management and production, all at Tehran University.
But driving is her first love. It appears to be a widely shared passion, as the exuberantly chaotic traffic of Tehran makes competitive driving seem like a national sport. “Tehran is a great place to learn how to drive,” she said. It is also a good place to have an accident…she broke her neck in one accident on the racetrack, and her left leg has metal screws in it from another wreck.
It is only in recent years that women have even been allowed to watch men’s sports. At her first race, women were screaming and climbing up the fences and that worried the organizers. “The committee said, ‘Please, don’t make the audience excited’ “. For the championship, she had to agree not to wave to the crowd, a third of whom by this point were women.
Ms. Seddigh was sponsored by Proton, a locally assembled Malaysian car, but she hopes to get a more prestigious international sponsor for the coming season. Subaru offered her a sponsorship but required her to move overseas, which she does not yet want to do. But she realizes that she may have to, at some point.
But this year Laleh was barred from defending title. In the lead-up to the race, she was told her participation was not guaranteed but was advised to register her name. Her registration was passed after technicians gave her car the all-clear. “I thought I had been given the go-ahead, I was walking towards the grid thinking thank God this has been resolved, when they shut the door on me. They said they didn’t know why, but the head of the federation said I wasn’t allowed to participate.”
It was the first time Seddigh had been excluded from a contest. She believes she was banned to prevent her earning enough points to repeat her championship success, which won her international fame but upset Iran’s male-dominated religious ruling establishment.
Seddigh says a Muslim cleric has already issued a fatwa – a legally binding religious ruling – stating that there is no religious bar to women racing against men provided Islamic dress code is observed. She plans to use the fatwa if she fails to persuade federation officials to grant her permission to take part in future races. The federation’s vice-president said Seddigh had been barred because of a government circular restricting women to female-only events. That decree has now been lifted, he said. But he added: “Women are speaking highly of themselves and that causes men who sacrifice their lives in this sport disappointment. Women are not champions in this sport, they are only participants…”