Iranian President Hassan Rohani has called for a decades-long stadium ban for women to be lifted, according to his office and media reports.
"There should be no difference between men and women in Islam, and for that reason women should also be allowed to take part in sports events," Rohani said at a meeting with Iranian athletes in his office on May 22, according to a statement released by his office.
Women have been banned from stadiums in Iran for 39 years in a policy imposed by Iran's Shi'ite cleric rulers after the 1979 revolution.
Rohani questioned why religious authorities have barred women from games, noting that Iranian women are active in sports and have achieved honors in sport competitions.
"Is preventing women from attending sports arenas as spectators in favor of Islam?" Rohani asked, noting that Iranian clerics have justified the ban by saying that women shouldn’t hear male fans swearing and cursing during games.
Rohani rejected those claims, saying women should not be punished for men being vulgar at sporting events.
"Should our women pay for it?” Rohani asked. "The true Islam does not prevent women from social engagement. Islam has not said at all woman must stay at home. It says women can participate in all social affairs with hijab," Rohani said.
Rohani also suggested that women’s sports should be broadcast on television.
"Why we cannot show the events, especially when they compete bravely with world-famous teams and win great victories?" he asked.
Rohani's comments came three months after the president of the world soccer federation said Rohani had assured him women will soon be allowed to attend soccer matches.
"I was promised that women in Iran will have access to stadiums soon," FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said on March 2. "He told me that in countries such as [Iran], these things take a bit of time."
Meanwhile, Iranian Vice President For Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has suggested that special sections for women and families in Iran's soccer arenas could help end the stadium ban, though the clergy has previously rejected that proposal.
Protests against the ban have grown in recent months, most noticeably around a World Cup qualifier in September against Syria when Syrian women were allowed to attend the game in Tehran but Iranian women were not.
Some Iranian lawmakers called the different treatment of Iranian and Syrian women a "regrettable and annoying discrimination."