Iranian hard-liners demonstrated in front of the Sports Ministry in Tehran on June 17 to protest the possible presence of women in sports stadiums.
The protest followed reports that a limited number of Iranian women could be allowed to attend two upcoming international male volleyball matches, including one on June 19.
Iranian women are currently banned from entering stadiums to watch male sporting events. But earlier this month, Iran's vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, told the Associated Press news agency that the ban will be partially lifted and that women will be allowed into stadiums to watch sports such as men's volleyball, basketball, and tennis.
Molaverdi's announcement followed criticism by the international soccer and volleyball officials -- as well as women's rights advocates -- that angered hard-liners who vowed to fight the initiative.
Amid the controversy, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was quoted by domestic media as saying that there are no new "instructions" regarding the presence of women in sports stadiums.
Iran's official news agency, IRNA, reported that demonstrators at the June 17 protest in Tehran said allowing women to watch male sporting events is against Islam and that those behind such moves should be put on trial.
Iran's reformist Shargh daily reported on Twitter that some of the protesters called for Molaverdi to be sacked.
ایسنا: درپی بروز برخی واکنشها از سوی برخی جریانها، ورود کلیه بانوان به سالن مسابقه والیبال ایران - آمریکا ممنوع شد.— روزنامه شرق (@SharghDaily) June 17, 2015
The group of protesters, which IRNA said numbered less than 100, later held prayers in front of the Sports Ministry.
The controversy highlights the power struggle in Iran between the government of self-proclaimed moderate President Hassan Rohani, who favors fewer social restrictions, and powerful hard-liners who oppose any kind of relaxation of strict social and political rules in the Islamic republic.
In the past, women in Iran had been allowed to attend some male volleyball and basketball games. Last year, however, they were banned from entering sports stadium to watch men's volleyball.
Authorities in Tehran used force to disperse women's rights activists who staged a June 2014 protest against the ban. One of the protesters, Iranian-British activist Ghoncheh Ghavami, was arrested and later sentenced to a year in prison.
Ghavami was released on bail after spending five months in jail. In April, an appeals court dropped the charges against her.
Iranian women's rights advocates have for years campaigned for allowing women to attend all male sporting events, including soccer, which is immensely popular in Iran.
Hard-liners have argued that women's presence at male sporting events is inappropriate because of the athletes' uniforms and the crude language common in the stadiums.