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Heena Sidhu pulls out of Iran event over headscarf rule

Heena Sidhu. AFP PHOTO / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

Heena Sidhu has confirmed she will not participate in the Asian Airgun Shotgun Championship in Iran in December because of the competition's rules that require women contestants to wear a hijab or headscarf. She added, however, that the competition "never really figured" in her plans for 2016.

The tournament's official website states "women's clothing in the shooting range and public places is required to conform to the rules and regulations of Iran." In a series of tweets from her Twitter handle on Saturday, Sidhu said she had opted out of the same event in Iran two years ago for the same reason. "I would like to clarify that it's not because wearing a hijab could be a hindrance to my performance since as an athlete I'm expected to adapt to all conditions," she tweeted. "My concern is the larger question of athletes being forced to follow a religious norm. Shooting is a very individual sport and I'm not here as a revolutionary who's asking all female athletes to take a stand on this issue. If they are OK with following it, I'm no one to judge."

She added: "I think religion should be kept out of the sporting arena. As athletes we are there at an event from all over the world on our hard work and merit, and for religious norms to be forced upon us is not acceptable to me."

"NRAI respects the social traditions of its host nation. These social measures are adopted by all competing nations. Indeed even tourists, visiting businesswoman, &a diplomats are required to comply with such measures. Having said that, we look forward to competing in Iran and are very hopeful of our teams performance at the games," said Raninder Singh, National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president.

Heena had won a Gold medal in the 10m air pistol at the last Asian Championship in New Delhi in 2015.

Heena is the only Indian shooter to pull out of the event and has been replaced by Harveen Sarao.