Sport on TV: Wheel of misfortune for the girl born on wrong side of the track

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The Independent Online

From Russian Jewish boxers last week to Muslim woman racing drivers. And what could be better to avoid breaking oppressive dress codes imposed by the Iranian authorities than a racing driver's jumpsuit?

"One World: Girl Racer" (BBC2, Tuesday) showed how hard it is for a woman to enter the macho world of motor racing, even more so in an Islamic state. It is only the fact that Laleh Seddigh can keep her body completely hidden that she is allowed to race at all.

Down at Tehran's Azadi track, the same chauvinism applies as it does the world over. "Males think this job, women can't do perfectly," Seddigh says. In other words, "Women drivers... blah blah". But the bigotry runs deeper than that.

In Tehran's paradoxical society, women occupy one third of all jobs and make up two thirds of all undergraduates, yet the Iranian racing federation tried to ban Seddigh because it was viewed as un-Islamic to compete against men.

Bizarrely the deputy head of her Saipa racing team, Hossein Shakiari, is also part of the governing body and was one of those who attempted to ban her. His conflict of interests reflects the contradictions inherent in Iranian society.

Seddigh would be a star in another country because of her beauty as well as her talent (and yes, that could be viewed as an indictment of western culture). But she has spent her career having to swerve past those who stand in her way. Three years ago she was crowned champion of the 1600 GT class but Iranian TV was not allowed to show her on the podium. On screen here, her fellow racers complain she is grabbing all the attention so she is forced to retire from the race and it is cancelled. These men will drive themselves round the bend. Later they accuse her of engine tampering.

But in the face of such hostility, Seddigh is not beyond using underhand tactics herself – far from it. After the race was called off because the cameras were all focused on her, a huge article appeared in the newspaper, a public outcry – ghosted by herself. And when she was accused of fiddling with her engine, it wasn't true – what she had done was respray another more powerful car.

She has been banned for a year, and she deserves it. But you have to admire her attitude. She is an inspiration to Iranian women, and in a deprived quarter of the capital, Elham Galevand explains the contradictions of post-revolutionary Iran: "In every situation women are more qualified than men and they will be replaced. They will be the ones who stay at home." Unless any parallel parking needs to be done, that is.

It was an unremarkable start to the new series of "Inside Sport: Beijing Special" (BBC, Wednesday), unless you count Sir Matthew Pinsent scoring drugs in a London pub and a week of brilliant blue skies in the Chinese capital. No smog to be seen, so you can stick that in your windpipe and choke it.