Go-Karts, Paintball Appeal to Young Iranians

ByABC News
January 3, 2006, 6:44 PM

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan. 3, 2006 — -- For many in Iran, Fridays are a day of prayer. The campus of Tehran University is the site of one of the largest services in this Islamic republic.

The women sit in their own area, located outside the main auditorium. While they still chant "Death to America" and "Death to Britain," their incantations seem to lack the fierce conviction of the revolution's early days. They're more like an old habit.

It's also evident that not many young people are part of the gathering, even though Iran has 40 million people under the age of 30, who make up two-thirds of the country.

The Iranian government throws its critics in jail, requires women to wear head scarves in public and has just banned Western music.

But it still tolerates a certain kind of freedom -- such as go-kart racing.

It is one of the latest sports young men and women can do together, because strapped into their cars, they can't physically touch one another.

A racetrack manager told ABC News the government doesn't dare stop young people from meeting like this because if it tried, the country could erupt.

A 20-year-old driver named Ghazaleh said she and her friends increasingly live in defiance of the religious men who run the country.

"They can't make me do anything ... things they want and I don't want," said one young female racecar driver, speaking in halting English. "They don't have the power. I am the power. I have the will. I will do anything myself want. I don't let anybody decide about me."

People said things about their government that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. From the track to the ski slopes just outside town, they said the system was not great, but they couldn't really do much to change it. And as in many places, it was easier to be free when your pockets were full.

"If you have money in Iran you can have a good life," said one man on the slopes. "This is the fact that is Iran."

With a literacy rate of 86 percent, there are many educated people in Iran. They watch satellite television in the cities, but without scratching the surface too deeply, one senses a real sense of frustration with the limitations.

"Right now I feel I hate Iran. I really hate Iran," said one skier.

But along with the ski slopes, young Iranians are finding other places to entertain themselves -- such as the paintball field.

"We have a famous saying over here in paintball," said one player. "We say, 'Paintball not war!'"

Watching the groups of paintball competitors chasing one another around the field can look a lot like the United States. But it is still Iran, of course.

Our host said women are allowed to play, just not with the men. Still, many people here make the point that Americans and Iranians have a lot in common.

"People all around the world are the same," said another young Iranian. "Just the cultures are different. I think we do have to think that everyone is the same. Politics doesn't matter. Politicians come and go. What is sustained all over the world is humanity."

ABC News' Bob Woodruff filed this report for "World News Tonight."