Unstoppable Nahid Biyarjomandi driven by “heavy responsibility” to empower women in rugby around the world

We spoke to the World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient about an exciting year, in which she has also given birth to her first child.

Nahid Biyarjomandi had already achieved more than most would hope to in a lifetime when she was chosen as one of 15 ‘Unstoppable’ women in rugby two years ago.

Iranian Biyarjomandi describes the experience of becoming an ambassador for World Rugby’s Try And Stop Us campaign as life-changing, and admits she still feels a “heavy responsibility” to help grow female participation.

“I think the biggest changes in my life happened inside me after this campaign,” she told World Rugby.

“I felt like I was finally seen after all the volunteering I did, and that gave me hope to continue on the path and gave me the strength to believe in more of my abilities, and try to pass on this new power to other girls. 

“However, I cannot deny how proud I was to hear the news of this campaign in the first week, both inside and outside the country, and I will not forget the happiness of my family and friends.”

Hard work pays off

Biyarjomandi has become increasingly influential since she founded Iran’s first women’s rugby club, starting with just two players but helping the popularity of the female game outstrip that of the men’s.

In 2016, she was appointed by the Iran Rugby Federation as head of its development committee, overseeing both women’s and men’s participation, and currently sits on the union’s board.

At a continental level, Biyarjomandi is a member of Asia Rugby’s Executive Committee and is also a deputy chair of the governing body’s Women’s Advisory Committee.

And, if her time wasn’t stretched enough already, the 33-year-old took on two very different yet equally time-consuming challenges this year.

In March, Biyarjomandi was one of 12 recipients of the 2021 World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship. Last month, meanwhile, she gave birth to her first child, Lia.

“This was the third year that I applied for this scholarship, and I think I was even happier after a few years of trying.

“In general, I do not like to achieve success without effort and I think Asia Rugby supported me at the right time,” she said.

“I cannot say that my pregnancy had no effect at all (on the scholarship), but I will have better conditions in the future, and fortunately my husband supports me a lot and I have no particular worries.”

Empowering women

Biyarjomandi has spoken in the past about being part of a “rugby family”, and she hopes to use the scholarship not only to educate herself, but to exchange ideas with people she would not have had an opportunity to meet otherwise.

“What I am most interested in about this scholarship is that the programmes of this scholarship are not limited to one specific [area],” she said. 

“Through this programme, whether it is education or participating in a special course... We can enter a new world and experience new opportunities with people from different cultures from around the world. 

“I am looking to empower myself as a woman to be able to lead more women and girls to this path in the future. 

“Certainly, everyone has her own goal in this path, but rugby is what has brought us all together.”

In terms of the specific emphasis of her work over the next year, Biyarjomandi added: “I’ll focus on the development of two parts. 

“One is leadership skills in sports, both nationally and internationally, and the other is the development of personality skills that are necessary for the first part. 

“I believe that in many cases the experiences of others can be used to pave the way, in which we share the path to success and the challenges we faced, as well as the solutions that we can help each other a lot.”

Unstoppable family

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that Biyarjomandi has had to be flexible with her plans for the scholarship, as study tours to conferences and academies have been postponed or cancelled.

However, she finds positives in conducting her work online. “I just have to try to find a new way according to the new situation and I am sure that good things will happen,” she said. 

“For example, one of the effects of corona was having virtual meetings with people I may never have thought of talking to or meeting, or even attending virtual classes or courses that are difficult to attend in person.”

Iran is fairly uniquely placed in that the popularity of the women’s game ensures that female players do not encounter the kind of challenges that their counterparts in other countries face.

“Only occasionally do sponsors take a better look at men's sports, which has been improving in recent years and their mind is changing,” Biyarjomandi said. 

“Fewer families here today consider that rugby is a sport just for boys.”

However, all rugby players in Iran remain amateur and Biyarjomandi is keen to help the game professionalise in the Asian country.

She would also like to see the country’s national teams, coaches and match officials gain more international exposure, once COVID-19 restrictions allow, in order to safeguard rugby’s standing.

Biyarjomandi’s husband is himself a national team player, so do the couple hope baby Lia will follow her parents onto the rugby pitch when she is older?

“I would like this to happen,” she admitted. “But, if she herself is not interested, we will just try to help her to be an ‘Unstoppable’ in her favourite way, which I’ve learned from rugby.”

READ MORE: Embracing gender equality in the boardroom makes it “much easier” to nurture women in rugby in Asia >>

Last updated: Sep 15, 2021, 9:15:50 AM
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