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Iranian Soccer Stars Call For End To Ban On Women Spectators

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Former Bayern Munich player Ali Karimi has added his voice to those calling for Iranian women to be allowed into major sports events. (file photo)

Two prominent Iranian footballers have called for lifting a ban on women attending major men's sports events, adding to pressure from women's rights activists long battling the prohibition.

Ali Karimi, who is widely regarded as one of the best Iranian players of all time, expressed hope on July 10 that "the conditions are set with the help of" President Hassan Rohani and the Iranian Football Federation (FFIRI) "for women to enter stadiums" as spectators.

"This is the demand of millions upon millions of female fans who'd like to watch football matches and other events up close," Karimi, a former midfielder for Iranian and European clubs who now coaches Naft Tehran, was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency as saying. "This important issue is not impossible, this dream of female sports fans can be achieved through correct planning."

Weeks earlier, Iranian national team captain Masud Shojaei called on Rohani to lift the ban.

Flood Of Passion

"I think it is the dream of many Iranian women who are football fans," Shojaei, who has represented Iran at two World Cups, said in a video clip that was shared widely on social media. "I think if [the ban is lifted] we would have to build a stadium that could hold 200,000 spectators, because we see the flood of passion from our ladies."

"I hope it happens very, very soon," he added.

Both appeals seemed intended to spur Rohani into pushing the country's conservative, religiously dominated leadership into some of the mild reforms that he espoused when he was elected in 2013 and reelected again in May.

Iran's national soccer captain Masud Shojaei (file photo)
Iran's national soccer captain Masud Shojaei (file photo)

Shojaei had reportedly raised the request in a June 14 meeting with Rohani after Iran's side qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The video was reportedly recorded at the venue of the meeting with Rohani.

Rohani campaigned on pledges that included fewer social restrictions, but he has faced opposition from influential hard-liners in Iran's mostly unelected power structure.

In recent years, government officials have issued conflicting statements over whether the ban on women entering stadiums might be lifted, and only a limited number of women -- many of them foreigners -- have occasionally been allowed in as spectators at mass sports events.

Islamic Norms

Authorities claim the stadium ban is enforced to protect women and Islamic norms. They say the atmosphere is inappropriate for women because of revealing athletes' uniforms and the prevalence of crude language.

But women's rights advocates say the ban is simply one of the more blatant examples of gender discrimination in Iranian society, where women are expected to maintain a strict dress code and are discouraged from being seen in public with male nonrelatives, and women's testimony carries less weight than a man's.

Women have occasionally defied the ban and entered stadiums, sometimes dressed as men.

In June 2014, several women were detained when they tried to go to an international volleyball event at Tehran's Azadi stadium.

Prominent Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi documented the debate in his award-winning movie Offside, about female football fans who are detained after attempting to enter a stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match. The movie was filmed in Iran but banned domestically.

Some of Rohani’s supporters have publicly called for the lifting of the ban.

"Entering stadiums is an Iranian woman's right," said a hand-written sign at a May campaign event in Tehran.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at EsfandiariG@rferl.org

     

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