Sonia Nourizad knows only too well the challenges confronting her country if it is to reach the very top level of sprint canoe.

But based on results in Szeged last weekend, and the chance for more strong results in Belgrade this weekend, there is plenty of cause for optimism.

Canoeing is still relatively young in Iran, and has faced its share of cultural barriers, especially for women. But Nourizad, first as an athlete and now as a coach, has seen there is a determination for canoeing to grow.

She represented Iran at two Asian Championships, and has come to Europe as the coach of the women’s team.

“We are 18 members altogether, men and women” Nourizad said.

“We are hoping in the future to have more members. Our goal is to get to the top five or six in the world.”

In Szeged Iran had two boats in A-finals: Hiva Afzali and Atena Raoufi Balgouri in the C2 women’s 200, and Adel Mojallalimoghadam in the men’s C1 200.

For Iran its focus in the short term is the next Asian Championships. In 2015 the country finished with 16 medals, a good platform to build on for the future.

One of the keys is to spread participation numbers throughout the country.

“In the north of Iran the sport is more popular, but we have many athletes who are interested in participating,” Nourizad said.

“We need to improve our facilities, we have a professional facility in Tehran.

“All of our national team participate year-round in our camp. We need to have other facilities in different cities.”

Of course money is always a stumbling block and in this Iran is not unique. Like everyone else, strong results on the international stage can often loosen the purse strings.

There are very few countries in the world where athletes have enough financial support that they can just concentrate on their sporting careers. But the tricky part is finding the balance.

“They don’t give enough money to the sport in Iran for the athletes just to concentrate on the paddling,” Nourizad said.

“They need more support to help them get good results. It’s a very big dream for the athletes, but we know that we have a hard task to succeed at this level.

“But no pain, no gain – we should try to do our best.”

And if all goes to plan, there will soon be a lot more women paddling in Iran. The numbers are growing slowly, but everyone associated with the sport is united in the cause to get even more women paddlers onto the water.

“We have limitations with women in our canoe and kayaking sport,” Nourizad said.

“It’s not very popular for women, so our Federation needs to find a way to allow women to come into practice and training.”

The ICF Sprint Canoe World Cup 3 begins this Friday in Belgrade.

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