Iran | ‘As if one were under water’

Nevertheless, the initial game—the first outdoor, in-country public exhibition for the women’s national team since the 1979 revolution—survived at least four postponements due to tumultuous negotiations over the German players’ visas. “It is a miracle that we are here,” Najafi told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in late Apr 06, when Al-Dersimspor, film crew and entourage finally touched down in Tehran. While many of Al-Dersimspor’s players have Islamic backgrounds, cultural adjustments still were required.

Players received final instructions on board the plane, according to FAZ‘s Swantje Karich, who accompanied the group (“Neunzig Minuten Freiheit,” 4 May 06):

In Iran women do not give their hand to men. Eye contact with men should be avoided. A principle: as a woman one should react rather than act. Now it is time to put on the headcloth. Some players are familiar with the parental and religious demands … [but] no one wants to be the first to put it on. There is some internal rebellion. Shame and uncertainty shows up on their faces.

Adjustment might have been the theme for Al-Dersimspor’s visit. Tehran is 1,500m (4,921′) above sea level and often cloaked in smog. The Kreuzberg players were concerned about their performance in “trackies” and head covering, although Valerie Assmann told FAZ: “It is not so bad as we thought. It feels as if one were under water, because the headcloth rests so snugly against the ears.”

BSV Al-Dersimspor, with team president, in playing attire in Tehran. For more pictures, see an online essay at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung website. (Andrea Geiger | FAZ)

Quotations from the Quran were broadcast before the game began, as Najafi began his wait outside the stadium. Taking a 2–0 halftime lead, Al-Dersimspor’s players removed their head coverings and danced in the changing room, experiencing “a manifestation of the liberty of women in Iran” when permitted such relaxation away from the public eye. The game concluded 2–2—“a beautiful result,” writes Karich. “That was it: 90 minutes of freedom and a little bit more.” Afterward, the Iranian and German players shared a meal and exchanged jerseys.

With the first match concluded, planning began on the return fixture, billed beforehand by the German Interior Ministry as a “meeting of cultures” and part of Germany’s ongoing “dialogue with Islam” (Saeid Najar Nobari, “Berlin Football Officials Hail Iran’s Women Soccer Match as Promoting Cultural Dialogue,” Islamic Republic News Agency, May 11). Similar delays and negotiations over symbolic particulars—the manner of players’ dress, the flag under which Iranian players would enter the stadium—resulted in scheduling of the game for Jun 1 of this year, more than a year after the first meeting.

On the night before the event at a stadium adjacent to the Viktoria Park Biergarten in Kreuzberg, Marlene Assmann learned by e-mail from Iranian authorities that the match could not take place due to “technical problems.” By the next day, a sign had been posted at the stadium entrance: “Freundschaftsspiel abgesagt” (Friendly game canceled). What would have been the Iranian women’s team’s first appearance in the West since 1979 had been lost to murky bureaucratic fumblings in the Islamic regime. Yet Najafi, himself familiar with long-running disputes over mounting theatrical productions in Iran—“These girls can’t get a football match, and I can’t show my work,” he tells Exberliner—ventures that Iranian officials in Berlin, rather than Tehran, proved to be the ultimate bottleneck.

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