Iranian officials have offered a partial olive branch to their critics by allowing foreign women to attend matches at this summer’s Asian Volleyball Championships, although local females will remain banned.
Iran faced international condemnation after British-Iranian woman Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested last June after attending an International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World League match against Italy.
Women in Iran have been banned from attending football matches for quarter-of-a-century and that was extended to volleyball in 2012.
Ghavami was held behind bars for almost 150 days and charged before being released on bail in November, pending a court appeal.
Following the international criticism after Ghavami’s arrest, insidethegames exclusively revealed that the FIVB would not award any further events under its sanction to Iran until the lifting of the ban.
Iran was consequently stripped of the right to host the 2015 FIVB Boys’ Under-19 World Championships, with Argentina taking over hosting rights.
But the continental Championships, due to take place from July 31 to August 8, were awarded by the Asian Volleyball Confederation rather than the international body so will remain in Tehran.
“Foreign women as employees of embassies, the families of foreign teams or other foreign women living in Iran can attend the competition,” Iranian Volleyball Federation President Mahmoud Afshardoost told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
The compromise comes as Iranian authorities are keen to rebuild their international reputation in the sport following a year of male success on the court, potentially with an eye to hosting major events in the future
But, though an important step, the concession does not address the general question of Iranian women being banned, and will see the genders remaining segregated, with a special part of the 12,000-capacity stadium in the capital to be allocated to women.
There also remains no final verdict regarding Ghavami, with no further developments appearing to have taken place since her November release on bail, although the law student was the subject of a banner raised this month during the ongoing Asian Cup football tournament in Australia.
Female supporters have been a common sight in Australia, where there is a large Iranian-community, but the nation’s players have been warned not to take photographs with these fans, the majority of whom do not adhere to the strict dress code for women in Iran.
“National team players should be aware that they won’t be used as a political tool by those who take pictures with them,” Ali Akbar Mohamedzade, the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation Moral Committee, told Shahrvand.
But Asian Football Confederation general secretary Dato’ Alex Soosay claimed to Agence France Press that they were “broad-minded” when considering laws from different countries.
“In Australia there’s a big Iranian community and you can’t stop them from coming to the stadium because there’s no restrictions,” he said.
“Whereas in Iran, there has been some restrictions of women entering the stadium and watching a football match.”
This is a view supported by other leading figures in international sport, with Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, head of both the Association of National Olympic Committees and the Olympic Council of Asia, having said that other cultures should be respected.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, insidethegames.