In mullahs’ Iran, women are banned from sports arenas
NCRI Women’s Committee – August 2015
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Shortly after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran, the mullahs started to enforce their backward laws against women. In step with expulsion of women from their jobs, women were also restricted from entering public sports arenas.
This issue took up different forms in different international circumstances, however, women were never free to enter stadiums as spectators. International sports federations have repeatedly issued warnings to the regime for exclusion of women, leading on several occasions to temporary or retreats by the regime in this regard.
In 2006, the mullahs’ incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the head of the Physical Education Organization and requested easing of conditions for women’s entrance to sports stadiums. The request was strongly objected to by the mullahs in Qom. Meanwhile, Tehran’s Friday prayer leader, Ahmad Khatami, said that if women entered the sports arenas, there would be no guarantee for observation of the Hijab (veil).
On many occasions, women who were very eager to attend sports matches, dressed up as men so that they would not lose watching the games. Under Mohammad Khatami, one of these women was recognized and arrested by security forces. However, the Security Force could not detain her, since she had not broken any laws.
On October 21, 2012, Momtaz News published the photos of two young women dressed in men’s clothing.
After the finals of the Asian volleyball championship games at Azadi Stadium, the government-affiliated Niksalehi website wrote on September 30, 2011, wrote, “It has been certainly unprecedented since the revolution, that a mixed audience of men and women sit together to watch the games.” To prove the claim, Nikshalehi published the following photos to prove that if women were allowed into sports arenas, the Hijab (or the veil) would be gone with the wind and “the standard norms would be violated.”
Afterwards, a Majlis deputy, Yahyazadeh, sent a reminder to the Minister of Sports and Youths, demanding women’s prohibition from entering stadiums during the Asian teens football games.
In June 2013, the public relations office of Iran’s Football Federation announced that the official celebrations for Iran’s admission to the World Cup games will be held at Azadi Stadium and only males are permitted to enter the stadium. This led to extensive protests by women.
In reaction to these protests, the hardline media wrote, “It was actually the Football Federation that initially sparked the affair of women’s presence in the celebrations in its statement. The statement had emphatically urged female fans of the national team to refrain from coming to Azadi Stadium! The question is why the federation felt so much obliged to emphasize this point while according to the laws of the country women are banned from entering sports stadiums.”
Reports published following these games indicated women’s presence outside and around the stadium, while the doors remained closed on them. One of these women said, “Their behavior was so insulting; they shouted at us and even pulled out the national flags our hands. Occasionally, they also gave us warning about our veils.”
During the 2014 World League, the Serbian FIVB observer noticed the empty seats of female spectators in the stadium and immediately objected. In the report he sent to the International Federation, he gave Iran negative points. A year earlier, the FIVB observer had asked Iranian officials to adopt appropriate measures to resolve the problem of attendance of female spectators.
Saeed Derakhshandeh, the Volleyball Federation’s officer in charge of international events, said, “It is not within my authorities to address the topic of women’s prohibition from stadiums. The prevention of female spectators from watching World League games is not a new incident and we did receive negative points for it, last year, as well!”
During the second Iran-Brazil game, some Iranian women dressed up in Brazilian national team jerseys and entered the stadium because Brazilian women were allowed to enter and watch the game.
One of the women who had got stuck behind closed doors of the Volleyball hall of Azadi Stadium, wrote the following post on her Facebook page the next day: “A small number of women who seemed to be wives or relatives of ambassadors and families of Brazilian volleyball players were allowed to enter the stadium. We asked them how come they were allowed to enter the stadium and we were not? The officers replied instead and said, ‘They have passports, Brazilian passports.’ ”
Security forces continued to suppress women who wished to watch sports in stadiums. In spring and summer 2014, not only the police and security forces prevented women from entering stadiums to watch the World League volleyball games between Iran and Brazil, Italy, and Poland, but on June 20th, during the Iran-Italy game, they used violence and arrested a number of women. Even female journalists were not spared.
Jila Bani-Yaqoob, a journalist who was outside Azadi Stadium on that day, wrote on her Facebook page: “The stadium was filled with anti-riot forces and police cars. A large number of policemen were constantly on the move on the roads leading to the stadium to prevent women’s gathering together. Their treatment of women was more violent compared to the previous game… Many men who defended women were beaten up and insulted and several were arrested. A number of women were also pushed into police vans and taken away.”
Fatemeh Jamalpour, a sports correspondent for Sharq newspaper, was also arrested and detained with 16 other women on June 20th outside Azadi stadium to be released after six hours. She also wrote about the incident on her Facebook page: “A plainclothes agent jumps in front of my car and stops me. He tells me to get out and show my ID. I step out my car and show my identity card once again. He takes it and calls the van to come forward. ‘This woman is going to the detention centre.’ I say, ‘What for? Why? On what charge?’ He yells, ‘Take her! Don’t resist!’ A few minutes later, I find myself on the ground being slapped over and over in the face; my clothes and purse are ripped apart; four female agents and a few plainclothes males. I am thrown into the van and detained for 6 hours.”
One of those arrested was the 25-year-old Ghoncheh Ghavami. This Iranian-British woman was arrested outside Azadi Stadium while trying to enter to watch a volleyball game between Iran and Italy. Upon arrest, she faced national security charges and was confined 41 days in solitary. She began a hunger strike on October 1st in Evin Prison in protest to the undetermined status of her case. After 11 days of hunger strike followed by a few days of dry hunger strike, Ghavami’s trial was finally held behind closed doors.
In the meantime, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-e Sabah, President of the Asian Olympics Council, questioned the Islamic Republic, demanding explanation about Ms. Ghavami’s arrest and detention. (Radio Farda Nov. 6, 2014)
Following international pressure, Robab Shahrian, Sports Ministry’s deputy for women’s sports, announced that the ministry had recently decided to allocate a section in every stadium to female spectators. Mohammad Reza Davarzani, president of Iran’s Volleyball Federation, also said: “The International Federation of Volleyball has sent a letter to the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, urging release of Ghoncheh Ghavami.” (Radio Zamaneh Nov. 12, 2014)
In February 2015, the World Volleyball Championship League (FIVB) cancelled its decision to have Iran serve as the host country because of the ban on women’s entrance into the stadiums and also Ghoncheh Ghavami’s captivity. The Secretary General of the International Volleyball Federation in Iran wrote in response, “Only foreign women are allowed to enter and watch the matches in Iran’s stadiums.” (Tabnak website Jan. 21, 2015)
After the World Volleyball Federation, FIFA also condemned the regime. On the eve of International Women’s Day, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, criticized the fact that women in Iran do not have the right to enter stadiums. In the federation’s weekly newsletter, Sepp Blatter criticized gender discrimination in football, calling it “intolerable”. Addressing Iranian authorities, he wrote, “Open up the stadiums to women.” (Radio Zamaneh March 6, 2015).
The Iranian regime’s news agency, ISNA, on March 9, 2015 reported one step of retreat by the regime. “Mahmoud Goudarzi, the Minister of Sports and Youths, commented on women’s presence in stadiums and the possibility of hosting the Asian Nations Cup in Iran. He said: ‘I think this issue has been raised in one of the National Security Council committees and some revisions have been made in this regard. However, the implementation of such revisions will have to conform to Islamic principles.’ ”
The Iranian regime subsequently started a new round of contradictory statements. One of the regime’s websites by the name of Khaneh Varzesh (House of Sports) wrote on April 4, 2015, “Diyarmirza, the Youths and Sports Minister’s deputy for cultural, educational and research, reported the Security Council’s confirmation of the ministry’s proposed plan for allowing the presence of women and families in stadiums and said, ‘This plan will be implemented as of this year.’ He added, ‘Of course, in some fields, neither the families want nor there is any possibility for their presence because it is a male sport.’ ”
On the same day, the regime’s media denied this report. ISNA wrote, “Deenparast, head of the Information Center and International Affairs of the Interior Ministry, announced, ‘The National Security Council has not adopted any resolutions on women’s permission to enter athletic stadiums.’ ”
After this debacle, another deputy minister of sports, Abdul-Hamid Ahmadi, joined the scene and in an interview with the official news agency, IRNA, resolved the issue as follows: “This plan was presented last year to the Security Council by the Ministry of Sports and Youths and receive a preliminary confirmation. Hopefully it will be confirmed soon and handed to the Ministry of Sports for implementation.”
In an interview with Fars news agency, Majlis deputy Zohreh Tabib-Zadeh-Nouri made insulting remarks about young women who want to attend athletic games in stadiums. She said, “Attending games in stadiums is of least priority for our country’s women. In fact, it is the demand of only a limited number of wealthy women who have no other problems in life.” (State-run Fars news agency, Apr. 11, 2015)
Ali Motahari, a member of the Majlis’ Cultural Commission noted, “Religious rules ought to be observed if women are to be present in stadiums. For example, if there is no problem with women’s presence at certain games, certain measures such as separating women’s entrances and exits, designating them a separate section to sit and other similar measures need to be taken.” (State-run Entekhab news agency, Apr. 19, 2015) http://www.entekhab.ir/fa/news/199869
Reacting to criticism by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the Iranian Football Federation president Ali Kafashian said the ban on women’s entrance to stadiums is “only one of many criteria required for hosting” the games and that, “this is only a very trivial matter compared to other issues.” He reiterated, “Women of other countries” will have no obstacles in entering stadiums in Iran.
On November 26th, some 40 women attempted to attend a volleyball game held in a Tehran stadium located on Hijab Street, however, they were not allowed in. The women, however, refused to leave the scene and stood behind closed doors in protest to the ban, despite orders by the building’s security forces to leave. They stayed and held their gathering until 5 pm.
The eightieth competition between two very popular football teams, Persepolis and Esteghlal, was held in May. Some 70,000 spectators attended the game in Azadi Stadium. There was only one woman among them, a female documentary filmmaker. In an interview with the state-run Tasnim news agency, she said, “I had to show my documents to pass through each and every door but eventually, Mehdi Taj did not agree with my presence beside the football field and forced me to sit at the journalists’ section and lead my team from long distance.”
In this way, Mehdi Taj, head of the Higher Football League, did not allow the only woman present in the stadium to carry on with her film-making business.
A few days later Shahindokht Molaverdi, presidential assistant for women and family affairs, stated, “The permission for women and families to enter stadiums for volleyball games has been approved but it is not in the stage of implementation and execution, yet.”
Female MPs, the most misogynist officials
Among the remarks made against women’s presence in sports stadiums, the worst are those of female deputies in the clerical regime’s parliament or Majlis.
Payam-e no website interviewed six female Majlis deputies on the prohibition imposed on women’s entrance to stadiums and the detention of a group of them. A summary of the interviews follows:
- Nayyereh Akhavan Bitaraf: “Iran’s women have a lot of unresolved problems. Now, a few girls and young women are making a big deal of marginal issues with the help of the media. This should not deceive us. I personally do not believe them to be representative of Iranian women. These issues do not have any priority, whether religiously or socially.”
- Laleh Eftekhari: “Some people just like to create an uproar rather than improving the situation of women.”
- Sakineh Omrani: “I doubt that women were treated so poorly and arrested for entering the stadium. They must have done something else or committed a violation which resulted in their arrest.
“It is not at all necessary for women to go to the stadium to watch the games. If they are really anxious to watch the games, they can stay home and watch the games on TV, particularly that in sports, men are not fully covered and therefore (entering stadiums) is religiously unlawful (for women).”
- Zohre Tabibzadeh Nouri: “I do not see any reason why I should comment on this matter.”
- Fatemeh Alia: “A woman’s job is to have children, raise them and look after her husband, not watching volleyball games. Some people are insisting to associate women at any cost with activities that are against their religious duties. A woman whose priority is going to the stadium or having an outside occupation or anything of this sort, will not have enough time to undertake her main duties. You can ask those who want to go and watch volleyball, how many of them are married or how many of those who are married have children? Even if they have children, ask them how are they raising them? There is no reason for women to be in a place where thousands of men are gathering!” http://www.magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=2974124
What do other government officials and forces say?
Ya Lessarat-el Hussein magazine warned against issuing licenses for women’s presence in stadiums. It published a text declaring, “The forces of the Hezbollah will create an ‘earthquake’ should women take part in the Azadi Sports Complex.”
Ebrahim Mir-Ahmadi, the Friday prayer leader of Gelogah, criticized the remarks by some officials on women’s presence in the sports stadiums and said, “It is not proper for senior executive officials even to mention the presence of women. Authorities should maintain their unity and do not allow outsiders to intrude.”
Mir-Ahmadi said women’s presence in stadiums will “undermine decency”, adding, “Creation of marginal issues by some will push the government and public opinion towards the margins. How would these people justify women’s watching bodies of strange men? In stadiums, people curse at the referees and players and it is not good for women to be present.
Mahmoud Afshardoost, secretary of the Volleyball Federation, said: “It is best for women to stay home and pray for their team.”
On the arrest of women in the sports stadiums, Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi defended the police actions and declared that the presence of women in some athletic environments exacerbate cultural abnormalities. He also said, “Religious precepts cannot be disregarded or made flexible.”
The State Security Forces (SSF) deputy for social affairs, Saeid Montazer-ol Mahdi, in replying to a question about the viewpoint of the Police on women’s presence in sports stadiums said, “Women’s presence in football stadiums is not advisable but if a law is adopted on that we will execute it.” He stressed that the Police have their own viewpoint in this regard and their views have an impact.
Majlis deputy Ali Motahari echoed the views of his father who was one of the regime’s top theoreticians. He said, “Women’s presence in society must not be sexually provocative which would undermine the foundations of families. Therefore women’s presence in society must be accompanied with certain rules designated by Islam, for example, observing the proper Islamic covering to the mentioned extent and not mixing with men in various environments.”
Mohammad-Taghi Rahbar, a former Majlis deputy and a temporary Friday prayer leader in Isfahan, noted, “It is preferable that women do not have any presence in stadiums.”
Finally, a source of emulation, mullah Makarem Shirazi said, “The stadium’s environment is not suitable for women and there is no doubt that the mixing of youths and their freedom will be a source for many moral and social problems; furthermore, men are not covered properly in some types of sports. Therefore, it is necessary for women to refrain from participating in such events.”
What must be done?
Undoubtedly, we cannot expect a regime that splashes acid on the faces of women under the pretext of improper veiling, to treat women as equal human beings and let them enjoy their right to be present in social events, including sports events.
The velayat-e faghih regime (absolute rule of the clergy) in Iran considers men as being absolutely dominant on women. Such vision that permits rape of women by the regime’s agents, one day causes the execution of Rayhaneh Jabbari and the other day leads to the suicidal self-defense of Farinaz Khosravani.
The Iranian regime is corrupt and decadent in its roots and must be totally uprooted. Like all other problems under the mullah’s rule, women’s problems, including their presence in the sports events, could be resolved only by elimination of this rotten, fundamentalist regime and replacing it by a democratic Islam as suggested by the Iranian Resistance’s President-elect. So, women can be supported by the Iranian people’s national resistance movement.