An Iranian man who barred his soccer-star spouse from playing in a tournament abroad has defended his actions and criticized foreign media for covering the case.
Mehdi Toutounchi, a prominent sports journalist and television presenter, said he had to "take control" of the situation.
Toutounchi’s remarks may stoke further outrage after he prevented his wife, Niloufar Ardalan, from leaving Iran to compete the Asian Football Confederation women's championship in futsal in Malaysia.
Ardalan, known in Iran as Lady Goal, has said that her husband denied her permission to leave the country because he did not want her to miss their son’s first day of school on September 23.
The case has led to an outcry on social media, where many have sharply criticized Toutounchi’s decision and an Iranian law under which a married woman needs her husband’s consent to travel abroad. A man can also ensure his wife stays in the country by declining to sign the paperwork needed to obtain or renew a passport.
Toutounchi was unapologetic.
“I really don’t like a family problem to become public,” he told the Iranian daily Ghanoon on September 17. "I feel in these cases, the man in the family has to take control."
Ardalan “was upset that she wasn’t traveling with the national team, she gave an interview. But I don’t like to talk to the media to solve the issue,” he said in brief remarks.
Ardalan is widely praised as one of Iran’s best female soccer players and has captained the national team in futsal, an indoor version in which each team fields five players.
Days after speaking to domestic media about her ordeal, Ardalan appears to have backed down.
In an interview with the Tasnim news agency, which is loyal to the hard-line conservative establishment in the Islamic country, she said that the issue is “private” and had been exploited by “antirevolutionary media,” a term used to refer to Persian-language media based outside Iran.
"I only described my problem and asked for a solution for it," she said. "It's no one else's business."
Those comments are likely to lead to concerns she faced pressure to change her tone.
Women's rights advocates have long called for reform or revocation of Iranian laws that discriminate against women, some of which were enforced only following the 1979 revolution, such as the travel law, which was introduced before it.
The Iranian website Feministschool.com reacted to Toutounchi's comments by suggesting he was intervening on the side of Iran’s opponents in the September 21-26 tournament in Malaysia.
Toutounchi’s actions were far from a private matter because they will affect the fate of the Iranian team, said a commentary on the website, which focuses on women’s issues.
"By banning his wife from travel, Toutounchi managed to defeat [Iran’s] national team on behalf of all the players of the rival teams," it said.