Photo taken at the Azadi stadium in Tehran during the Iran-Brazil volleyball match. Female Iranian supporters dressed up as Brazilian supporters in order to enter the stadium.
UPDATE (Monday, June 23) : Fifty women were arrested for trying to enter a stadium to watch a volleyball match in Tehran on Friday.
Though most of the world is fixated on football right now, in Iran, people are more focused on volleyball. The Iranian national team, which has been playing very well, is drawing crowds in Tehran. The public is made up entirely of men, since the religious police forbid Iranian women from entering the stadiums. Some of them, however, have found creative ways to get in.
Iran is ranked twelfth in the world for volleyball, and its team has made huge progress over the last decade. Since May 30, the team has been taking part in qualification matches for the Volleyball World League, which brings together the 28 best-ranked teams in the world.
Female fans forced to stay outside the Azadi stadium.
However, these sporting events are only for male eyes, since the “morality police” — a special police force that seeks to fight “moral corruption” and to combat those who violate Islamic law — have been systematically preventing women from attending volleyball tournaments since 2005. However, this prohibition does not apply to foreign women.
On June 15, Iranian women took advantage of this exception to steak into the Azadi stadium to watch the Iranian team play the world champion, Brazil. Some of them confirmed to the official Iranian press agency that they had managed to enter the stadium by wearing Brazilian jerseys and by asking for help from the Brazilian families that had come to watch the match. According to journalists from the agency, about a dozen women managed to sneak past the morality police.
“I want to be able to walk into a sports stadium proud of my identity as an Iranian woman and a fan of my national team”
Jila Baniyaqoub is an Iranian journalist. She advocates for the rights of Iranian women to attend sporting events.
Despite the ban in place by the morality police, about 70 women tried to enter the Azadi stadium. Among us was a representative of the state secretary for women’s rights, who is part of president Hassan Rohani’s administration [editor’s note: Sara Ghasempour, a parliamentary staff member, who is wearing black in the photo below]. But the police wouldn’t hear us out. They turned us away, saying this was the decision of the provincial security council. This shows clearly that, on this issue, the Supreme Leader and Rohani’s government do not see eye to eye.It’s not a security problem, as the police apparatus is sufficient. It’s an ideological position. But now we have hope, because the government is on our side.Iranian supporters outside the Azadi stadium.When we were turned away, women spontaneously organised protests near the stadium. If this goes on, it’s going to become a real security problem for the police. The next match for the Iranian team [editor’s note: against Italy on June 20, in Tehran] will be quite a challenge for the authorities, as many women were very disappointed that they could not enter the stadium to support their team. A good number are planning on trying to enter the stadium next time. If the authorities don’t make a decision soon, they could quickly become overwhelmed.I am not judging the women who managed to enter by wearing Brazilian jerseys, but I don’t want to have to resort to ruses in order to support my team. I want to be able to walk into a sports stadium proud of my identity as an Iranian woman and a fan of my national team.
A child holding a sign that says: “Hi mom, I wish you could have been here”.
Support beyond Iran’s borders
Following Iran’s revolution in 1979, women were forbidden from entering any sports venues. Under president Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005), these policies were loosened and women were able to watch volleyball tournaments. However, under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), the ban on women was reinstated.
The recent volleyball matches have highlighted the rift between Hassan Rohani’s government and the morality policy, controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Monday, the Iranian state secretary for women’s rights clearly spoke out on Facebook against the ban on women in sports stadiums, and called on police to lift it. This appeal went unheeded.
The issue of Iranian women’s presence in sports stadiums has received attention from abroad: the observer for the sports international volleyball federation expressed his disappointment at the absence of women at the match. Furthermore, the Italian volleyball team, which will play against Iran this Friday, posted a YouTube video requesting that the Iranian authorities allow female supporters into Tehran’s stadium.