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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Polo players overcome Iran barriers
Roxana Saberi
BBC News, Tehran

Iran has been holding its first international all-women's polo tournament this week, with teams from Britain and Australia taking on the hosts.

Some of the players on the British and Australian polo teams admit they felt a bit uncertain about visiting Iran at a time when its disputed nuclear programme has been in the international spotlight.

Louise Sandberg
Louise Sandberg: Some of the kindest people we've ever met
But having spent a few days in the country, they have no regrets about coming here.

They say it has been a good chance to move beyond the politics in the region and create friendships through sport.

Louise Sandberg, from London, is one of the four British players who kicked off the tournament with a match against Iran at a riding club just outside Tehran.

"My perceptions were not probably all that positive because of what you hear in the news," she said.

"But when we arrived, we've seen it's not at all true. It's a beautiful country with some of the kindest people we've ever met."

After arriving in Iran last week, the players visited the country's central city of Isfahan - known for its cultural, religious, and historical sites.

And while they are gaining new insights into Iran, the Iranian women's team is also learning new lessons.

Ancient sport revival

Polo originated in ancient Persia.

But after Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979, women here were barred from playing it in public until last year.

Dressed in white, the England team
England won the tournament, but it was a learning experience for all
This is the first time Iran's women's team is competing in an international tournament.

"The significance of today's game is to find out what level our country's polo is at and to progress; to see and learn from their playing," said player Haleh Amirebrahimi.

Polo competitions in Iran are limited to single-sex matches. And the women - including the visiting players - must observe Islamic traditions in clothing.

The players have been headscarves under their helmets and also long jackets - a little hot, some say.

But Australia's captain Jacqueline Hooper said the clothing was not too much of a hassle.

"I have to say they look very glamorous today, the English players in their white," she said.

"The difference is that there is this scarf around the side of the face and the back of the neck, and the polo shirt is longer."

Britain beat the Iranian team 12-6, and went on to win the tournament.

But the players say the score wasn't important.

As the Middle East fills the headlines with news of conflict and war, they say they are just glad to play the game they love and to learn from the experience.

Polo comes back home to Iran
22 Sep 05 |  Middle East

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