The Fajr Cup opened in Iran today ©Brian Oliver

On an historic day for sport in Iran, the country's National Olympic Committee said it would support a future bid to host the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships.

The launch of a women's weightlifting programme in Ahvaz today, International Women's Day, removed the biggest obstacle to any prospective bid by Iran, which last hosted a World Championships in 1965.

The IWF could never consider taking its flagship annual event to a nation where the sport was for men only, which it has been until now.

The launch preceded the start of the third Fajr Cup, an international competition that will be open to women from next year if all goes to plan.

Shahrokh Shahnazi, secretary general of the Iran National Olympic Committee, said here in Ahvaz: "Our strategy is to support and promote women's sport.

"We have started very positively and seriously, and we will give strong support to women's weightlifting.

"It is a very important sport in Iran because of its history - our first medal at the Olympic Games was in weightlifting [in 1948].

"We have discovered that there is great potential for women's weightlifting."

On the subject of hosting World Championships, Shahnazi said cultural challenges could be overcome by staging men's and women's competitions on separate platforms at the same venue.

Male coaches of women would be permitted, and foreign athletes would not have to follow the Islamic dress code that applies to Iranian women.

"We have done it in other sports, for example karate, even football we have had the same situation with separate arenas," he said.

"Foreigners have come and sometimes they accept and respect our culture.

Derrick Johnson won the men's 62 kilograms division ©Brian Oliver
Derrick Johnson won the men's 62 kilograms division ©Brian Oliver

"But it's their decision, we don't impose our culture and regulations on them, that's why we don't really feel there is any problem."

Asked if the 2019 Fajr Cup would be open to men and women, Shahnazi said: "Yes, we can do that.

"If the IWF and our national weightlifting federation agree we will support it. 

"I'm sure the Government also will agree.

"The nature of sport is peace, friendship, brotherhood and we focus on that slogan which is so important to the Olympic Movement."

The Iranians would have to seek approval from the IWF should they want to introduce any special conditions for the Fajr Cup, which is on the IWF's international calendar.

The next World Championships not yet awarded will be in 2021. 

Ursula Garza Papandrea, President of USA Weightlifting and head of the IWF Women's Commission, spoke at the launch and led a women's coaching education session afterwards.

Garza Papandrea said that, of all the women's sport projects she had supported over the years, this one in Iran was the most significant.

"I am honoured to be here," she said.

Derrick Johnson, the American who is coached by Garza Papandrea, won the first event of the Fajr Cup, the 62 kilograms class.

Johnson, the first American to compete in Iran in 53 years, made only two good lifts but his total of 250kg put him clear of Serbia's Stevan Vladisavljev on 242kg and Tajikistan's Sunatollo Oiev on 235kg.