Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi Friends have been unable to contact athlete since Sunday, while embassy says she has returned home with rest of team.
The BBC also quoted “well-informed sources” as saying that Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi passport and mobile phone had been confiscated.
BBC World Service presenter Rana Rahimpour tweeted on Tuesday morning that Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi was on the plane to Tehran and that “there are concerns for her safety”.
Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in the Asian Championship. Its organisers, the International Sport Climbing Federation, have been contacted for comment.
Online news site Iran Wire reported that Rekabi was taken to the Iranian embassy in Seoul to ensure he could fly home with minimal screening.
The small anti-regime website Iran Wire quoted a source as saying that Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi would be flown to Tehran on Tuesday – a day earlier than planned – to avoid possible protests at Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The Guardian could not confirm the reports.
In a tweet on Tuesday, the Iranian embassy in Seoul said that Rekabi “left on October 18, 2022, together with other members of the group, from Seoul to Iran early in the morning.”
“The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in South Korea strictly denies all fake news and misinformation about Mrs. Elnaz REKABI,” it said. The Guardian has contacted the embassy for comment.
Iran has been gripped by deadly protests since Mahsa Amini died in police custody last month. The country’s “morality police” arrested a 22-year-old man for not wearing the hijab properly.
Some female demonstrators burned their hijabs and cut their hair, while crowds chanted “zan, zendegi, azadi” (“woman, life, freedom”).
Rekab became the first Iranian woman to win a medal at the World Sport Climbing Championships last year. He finished fourth at last weekend’s event in South Korea. The video showed her silencing the wall with her hair in a ponytail during the event.
Rekabi, who posted Instagram photos of herself training in a hijab, is also believed to be only the second Iranian athlete to compete in public in defiance of Iran’s strict law requiring women to wear the Islamic headscarf.
In 2019, boxer Sadaf Khademi became the first Iranian woman since the Islamic Revolution to win a fight abroad. Khadem decided to stay in France after the fight after Iranian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him for boxing bareheaded and in shorts.
In a 2016 interview with France’s Euronews, Rekabi admitted that wearing a hijab while climbing can create additional physical challenges.
“At first it was a bit strange for the other athletes who felt curious competing indoors in such hot temperatures, a girl with a scarf on her head and clothes covering her arms and legs,” he said.
“When it’s hot, the hijab definitely becomes a problem. During competitions, the body needs to get rid of the heat. But we tried to create clothing that respects the hijab and is suitable for climbing sports.”