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.

Abbass-Gholizadeh sees the admission of women to football matches as a stepping-stone to other reforms. Sport seems a potent area for challenge of cultural and political norms. Women have participated in large public celebrations after Iran’s World Cup successes in 1998 and 2006. Rally car driver Laleh Seddigh—called “the little Schumacher”—has implicitly challenged the male ruling establishment through her victories. In October, the 2004 national champion was barred from participating in a race. Organizers cited “security problems.”

Iranian director Jafar Panahi‘s film Offside has been touring the festival circuit to acclaim. The quasi-documentary about women trying to sneak inside Azadi Stadium to see Iran’s World Cup qualifier—art imitating life—has been banned from public theaters in Iran (see a clip concerning one of the women, who are detained, trying to take a halftime toilet break). To Panahi, in an interview with website Open Democracy (“Offside Rules: An Interview with Jafar Panahi,” 6 Jul 06), restrictions on women’s attendance are an “unwritten law”; there is no written ban. As women have done in Iran in order to experience aspects of life denied to them, Panahi’s protagonists must disguise themselves as boys in order to sneak past a security detail.

I believe that it is the greatest insult to women that they have to deny their identity as women and have to dress as men to take part in society. So yes, there is humour, but it is bitter humour. You may laugh at it, but nevertheless you feel very sad that women have to deny their femininity to take part in a function where men can take part.


While women continue their campaign to watch football, the state as of Feb 07 has cracked down on women playing rugby, according to Radio Farda. Hamid Tehrani of Global Voices, who translates an online report, says seven teams had been organized into a national competition (see pictures). The government, however, has banned the sport on the premise that only male coaches are available.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (2)

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  1. Esfandyar Feili says:

    Thinking of women: Think of them as your mother, and as your grandmother, and as your soulmate. How can one be against his grandmother, mother, soulmate and the source of life on earth and still think to be a man of God?

  2. Alexander says:

    It’s long overdue that the women of Iran took part in all areas of sport, either as participants or spectators. They make up half the population of that great country after all.

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