Clerical error? | Iranian officials say coed attendance remains possible, despite sharia’ ban

The reply from the Iranian Sport and Recreation Organization, written in Farsi and received Nov 18. Queries were submitted to Ahmadinejad’s website on Apr 26.

Tehran, Iran | With translation help from Portland, Oreg.-based writer and radio host Goudarz Eghtedari, we learn from Iran’s sporting authority that preparations are being made to facilitate coed attendance at football matches despite an ongoing ban by clerics.

Acknowledging that the “presence of women and all sections of the society at sport events will have some positive psychological impact on athletes,” the Iranian Sport and Recreation Organization writes in reply to questions submitted by the Global Game in April that “measures are in process to make sport complexes physically ready for this coed attendance.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad instructed the sporting authority on Apr 24 to lift a ban on women’s attendance at men’s football, part of a broader gender segregation in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution. “Certain prejudices against women have nothing to do with Islam,” Ahmadinejad said at the time. “Unfortunately, whenever there is talk of social corruption, fingers are pointed at women. Shouldn’t men be blamed for the problems, too?” Clerics, however, who are the ultimate authority in Iranian political life, within two weeks had reversed Ahmadinejad’s action.

In the reply to the Global Game’s queries, the sporting authority did not specify how stadia would be modified to accommodate women. The plan in April, according to media reports, was to offer separate seating areas by gender.

Women’s participation in sport, including football, has not been in question. “There is no prohibition for women’s participation in any lawful sport in Iran,” writes the sport organization. A national women’s team competes in regional tournaments, including the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship in the fall of 2005. The team, however, is not recognized by FIFA. The preferred form of the sport, since women’s soccer was introduced in Iran in 1998, is futsal (see 7 Oct 05).

Eghtedari, host of “Voices of the Middle East” on KBOO-FM 90.7 in Portland, writes that “segregation is the problem for female athletes, and that they are not allowed to take part in international matches with males in the audience limits their potential for advancement.”

A still from Panahi’s feature Offside shows one of the girls detained after trying to sneak into Azadi Stadium. Jasper Rees of the Daily Telegraph calls Offside “one of the most compelling films about ordinary football fans ever made” (“Barred from the Game They Love,” 2 Jun 06).

Women’s rights activist Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh, whose leg was broken in Jun 05 as part of a demonstration among women seeking entry to a World Cup qualifier, concurs in an April interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Under the current conditions—in which a woman who wants to travel needs her husband’s permission, in which academic places, universities, scientific locations, and recreational places like coffee shops are segregated—women or young girls cannot easily gain access to public places. And this segregation shows that we cannot say that women and men use public places equally.

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