On September 30 2019, an Imgur post purportedly showing “Iranian TV censorship of women’s track and field competition” proved popular:
The original poster didn’t provide a source for the looping GIF, and commented:
I don’t know — I kind of think I would like to watch a Punctuation Olympics.
Hilarious!!!!! How Iranian TV censors female athletes when showing the Olympics. OMG. LOL
Although the Imgur post was shared in late September 2019, it was actually at least three years old. In August 2016, the screen captured portion appeared in a longer video titled “VIRTUAL BURKINI — Olympic games rio Saudi Arabia Tv.”
A description box for the video noted that the footage was not real, but had been shared as real by Facebook users:
Saudi Arabia television and the Olympic Games in Rio. The video was initially shared as ‘iranian’ by severals Facebook pages
A self-identified Iranian commenter responded to one question in a comment about the “censor bar” elements:
This is not even shown on iranian tv. the black censors were made by someone else to make fun of us. Trust me I’ve been watching the olympics live from Tehran. They do sometimes not show scenes for example when women’s football shirt are taken off but they never censor using those black thing that are shown in the above video. Women are allowed to do whatever sport they want here btw. This aint Saudi arabia.
On the same day the Imgur post appeared, CNN published an unrelated article about female athletes and censorship in Doha, Qatar. That news was unrelated to the “Iranian censorship” post, but the news mentions may have bolstered its popularity. CNN reported:
Images from cameras built into the starting blocks at the World Athletics Championships in Doha will be censored following objections from female athletes.
The cameras — which were in use for the first time and promised to “provide innovative angles on the competition,” according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) — showed images of athletes’ intimate areas, prompting criticism from German sprinters Tatjana Pinto and Gina Lückenkemper.
Use of censor bars on moving video of female athletes appeared to originate in a separate, humor-based context. Originally, a YouTube channel did a “censored beach volleyball” video, followed by “censored Olympics.” The apparent intent behind those videos was to imply that athletes sometimes appear naked when censor bars were added. At the time the clips appeared, no one implied they legitimately depicted footage aired in Iran.
It is possible the idea in part came from a 2008 Slate piece about the airing of women’s sports in Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. An item titled “Beach Volleyball in Iran?” explained how “conservative countries handle scantily clad Olympic athletes”:
Many female Olympians wear athletic clothing that does not cover their bodies; are their events broadcast in conservative countries? Yes, for the most part.
Regional and foreign networks are broadcasting  Games, including Al Jazeera, the BBC, and Al Arabiya, as well as local channels. The foreign broadcasters are not altering their content to reflect local customs, but certain countries with legal dress codes for women might be censoring footage on state-operated channels. (Only a small proportion of the Muslim countries where women tend to dress modestly have compulsory dress codes; in Bahrain, for example, women are allowed to wear whatever they want.)
Government-owned television networks in Saudi Arabia and Iran will show women who are not wearing the hijab as long as they are not too scantily clad. In Iran, shorts seem to be OK, but swimsuits and leotards are out. (That means no swimming, gymnastics, or beach volleyball.) Events in which the athletes’ bodies are mostly covered—such as horseback riding and judo—are always acceptable. (The networks are also likely to be covering the three events in which Iranian women are competing: rowing, tae kwan do, and archery.) In Saudi Arabia, most people watch Olympics coverage on satellite TV, which is fully legal and carries no government restrictions.
In that reporting, Slate added that not all female athletics would air in Iran and Saudi Arabia, although of the two, Saudi Arabia’s censorship appeared to be far more stringent. According to the story, swimsuits and leotards were among the attire not approved by television censors in Iran. Intermittently, internet users mistook the originally generalized parodies seriously, genuinely believing they showed what airs on Iranian television.
The Imgur post “Iranian TV censorship of women’s track and field competition” was inaccurately captioned. Around 2014, comedy channels began “censoring” beach volleyball to imply as a joke that the athletes were naked. After the concept amused their audiences, additional “censored” athlete videos depicted censor bars across Olympic athletes. Claims quickly began circulating that the clips were broadcast on Iranian television. However, earlier reporting noted that a handful of events would not be televised in Iran — not televised with censor bars.