Nahid Biyarjomandi has a saying that helps to explain the drive behind her impact on women’s rugby union in Iran: “impossible is impossible”.
Her passion for the game she was introduced to as a child is infectious, and there is no barrier big enough to prevent her carrying out the work she hopes will encourage more and more of her countrywomen to pick up an oval ball. Even if it sometimes annoys those closest to her.
“I can feel it in my life. In everything. I always think about rugby,” she said.
“For example, when I see people standing around on a street I think ‘Wow, he or she [would be] a good player for rugby!’.
“My family say: ‘Stop thinking about rugby!’”
According to Biyarjomandi, who is currently Iran Rugby’s Head of Women’s Rugby Development, the sport is more popular with women than men in Iran but that has not always been the case.
Inspiring girls and women
The country’s union is less than 20 years old and when Biyarjomandi set up her own women’s club – the first in Iran – she began with only two players.
Initially she intended to line up alongside them but ultimately took the view that it would be more beneficial to her new – and future – club-mates if she concentrated on coaching.
“I wanted to play with the other players but after that I realised that I can’t play at the same time and coach the girls,” Biyarjomandi explained. “It’s not good for my team-mates and my team.
“I realised that maybe I can inspire other girls and other women.
“Maybe I didn’t catch my dreams in playing time, but I can help the other girls to catch their dreams.”
She has certainly done that. From those humble beginnings, Biyarjomandi’s club has grown into a successful force, winning the Iranian championship at both under-18 and senior 15s.
And as the club has developed, so too has participation in women’s rugby in Iran as a whole. Of the country’s 31 provinces, 20 boast an active rugby community.
It means that Biyarjomandi has long distances to travel from her home in Karaj, a city just to the west of Tehran, in order to fulfil her role with the union but she is happy as it means the game is in good condition.
“It’s really healthy,” she said. “We are trying to keep rugby safe, keep rugby clean and everything is OK.”
One area where Biyarjomandi sees room for growth is through international exposure. Iran became an associate member of World Rugby in 2010 but opportunities on the global stage have been limited.
In that same year, the Iranian women’s team travelled to Italy to take part in a sevens tournament, while Germany sent an under-20 side to Tehran to compete in a triangular tournament in 2017.
However, the Middle East nation is not represented in either the Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Series or its 15-a-side equivalent at present.
“I always tell everyone we should believe that our rugby knowledge maybe not great as Canada, for example, or America,” Biyarjomandi said.
“But I think if we have some great coaches, [with] high level certificates, or maybe our national teams can go out of Iran and watch the ‘real’ rugby, watch a lot more competitions then it can help us more.
“Then it’s good for our players and good for our coaches.”
Like female programmes in a number of countries, the issue for Biyarjomandi and her colleagues is one of funding.
“For 10 years we’ve had a national team but one year we can send our teams, one year we can’t. One year can, one year can’t,” she explained. “It’s so difficult for us.”
Biyarjomandi is keen to stress that “Iran is not the only country that has money problems” when it comes to finding partners and sponsors to finance their national teams.
But neither is she content to use it as an excuse. Biyarjomandi was attracted, in part, to rugby because of its values and the sense of camaraderie that it provided.
“I really think that I belong to a big family and that is [the] rugby family,” she said.
Biyarjomandi is determined to spread the values of rugby throughout Iran and is confident that should she be successful then the country’s potential in the sport would be huge.
“I think there is nothing more important than happiness,” she said.
“I really want to introduce rugby to all of our girls and boys, not just to girls, every child who maybe fights with barriers in their life.
“Maybe an important ambition of mine is, we are a happy country, but every country has its problems and I think that I really want that one day all people get happier through rugby.
“It’s my dream, and also beside of that I really want to see our national teams in the first place of maybe Asia Rugby or world rugby – and I always say that impossible is impossible.”