FISU student ambassador Mahdieh Seraji is helping change lives through the university sport volunteering association in Iran. Being a student sport leader in her country is a step in the right direction as she aims to inspire future generations, particularly women in sport.
“For me, being a FISU student ambassador is mostly a way to impact women participation in sport, the past generation fought for us and we are fighters for the next generation of women in sport. I feel responsible for focusing on female students so they become motivated and more active, I try to make a change (even if it is small),” said the FISU student ambassador.
Seraji who is a PhD candidate in Strategic Sport Management at Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran, Iran is working on HR models for managing volunteers in university sport events in her dissertation. She initially studied Sport Sciences as her undergraduate degree while she continued to compete as a professional athlete in the Iran Premier Volleyball League as well as in the National University Swimming Championships.
Nowadays, she participates in different sports (as an athlete and an instructor), mainly water sports such as scuba diving, open water swimming, canyoning, stand up paddle boarding and so on.
“Many people may think these activities would be hard for women, especially for a Muslim woman while wearing a hijab but you can do whatever you want! It doesn’t mean that it is easy and there is no barrier, but my passion is far stronger than obstacles,” she said with enthusiasm.
It does not come as a surprise that adventure and sports runs in her blood because of her family, Seraji considers herself lucky being born in such a sport loving family. “We usually play different sports together as a family, we go hiking, mountain climbing among other sports, and this was the start for me to fall in love with nature and adventure sports,” she said.
Outside of her family outdoor activities, Seraji currently works for the Iranian University Sport Organization (USO) as the head of Performance Evaluation and her department recently started “The University Sport Volunteering Association” in USO which she is responsible for. She works closely with Iran National University Sport Federation on this project to.
Seraji details what the University Sport Volunteering Association entails: “About 2 years ago, we started an association in our university which aims to involve students in social volunteer activities. We provide educational services, sport and environmental activities for children with the help of university students. We have also organized environmental activities and educational programs for university students like Plogging (a combination of jogging with picking up litter).
During quarantine, we have also presented a series of webinars in the field of sports, environment and social responsibility by inviting social activists to speak on various topics with regard to the current pandemic the world is facing.”
Seraji also pins down some key lessons that she has taken from being a FISU student ambassador from the last couple of years: “As a FISU student ambassador, sport has been a way to get closer to other students across the world, learn more about them, know them better and FISU has played a key role in achieving this. FISU showed me that sport has a way to unite nations, making friends and embracing diversity. Sport is our common language with other students around the world, no matter where we come from, what we do or what we think, sport unites us all! I love FISU because it has always made me feel special and provided me with the chance to speak up and present my identity to the world and learn more about other’s,” she reflected happily.
Education and sport play a big role in Seraji’s life, “I love everything about sports, it’s the main part of my life, I study sports, I work in sports, and I do lots of sports in my free time.”
She also was handed the opportunity to present an article at the FISU World Conference and shares her experience: “I had the chance to participate in the FISU World Conference 2019 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. I presented my article about ‘how university sport events can increase the tendency and participation levels in physical activities among students’.
I got very positive and useful feedbacks about the research and found opportunities to conduct future research in the field of university sports. Besides being in a great academic environment, I had the opportunity to attend and enjoy the Winter Games.”
Seraji believes she is growing the sport in her country by organizing two courses for students to participate in “Students National Games 2018 and 2019” with the help from USO.
“They introduced scuba diving, surfing and paddle boarding for female athletes, which can be considered as a milestone in developing new sports in Iran universities,” she exclaimed. Seraji works closely with Iranian Scientific Sport Management Association (ISSMA) as the head of volunteering committee and is working on different sport projects as well. She further states that, “As a FISU student ambassador I try to be a good example for other students, to be multi-dimensional and work harder to mix sport and education. I work hard in both of them and tell students you do not need to be one-dimensional! Show them how participating in sport activities can improve the learning process and will make them more successful in education and also in the society.”
Something that not many people know about her is as a member of an environmental activist group, Seraji is currently work on the International Hormuz Peace Swimming Project. She as well as her team which includes Mohammad Kobadi (Guinness World record holder for swimming 1080km in the Persian Gulf in 85 days) as the leading swimmer, are going to swim from Iran to Oman to raise awareness for protecting endangered marine species in the Persian Gulf. She will be the only woman in the swimming team.
Seraji continues to improve volunteering in sport as well as the inclusion of more women participation while breaking down stereotypes and practicing a healthy lifestyle. Her sporting knowledge and caliber continues to grow and this has certainly impacted the future of university sport in Iran.