Iranian fans frustrated by lack of coverage of women's futsal

Image: AFC
Image: AFC

In Iran, futsal is a very popular sport. But when the national women’s team won the Asia Futsal Championship for the second time, very few Iranians were able to see images of the match, leaving both fans and players frustrated.

Iran’s team won the title last weekend by beating Japan 5-2. It had already won the last championship, in 2015. But this year, like in 2015, their matches were not broadcast in Iran.

Only a few media outlets in Iran published still images, notably a photo of a match between Iran and Turkmenistan (which Iran won 14-0) that had been relayed on the Iranian Futsal Federation’s social media channels. But the photo was edited – poorly – to hide the bare knees of a Turkmen player.

In Iran, the media isn’t allowed to publish photos of women with bare skin – not even of non-Muslim women.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Actress Bérénice Bejo 'dressed up' by the Iranian press

The photo’s doctoring drew criticism on social media.

Translation: "I watched the final match between Iran and Japan, I confirm all of them had knees"

Translation: "The new red lines: knees"

The only video footage that was broadcast in Iranian media featured the women’s team returning to Iran, and being welcomed by fans at Tehran’s international airport.

The overall lack of coverage angered many fans – and some of the players themselves. One player posted a message online to voice her frustration.

Fatemeh Etedadi is a star of the Iranian futsal team. In this video, she said: "During what was the most important of matches for us, I don’t know what they [Iran’s public sport channel] were broadcasting. Apparently, they were showing a hockey match during our final match. [Editors’ Note: hockey is not a popular sport in Iran]. They don’t broadcast our matches. We expect them to support us. But people share images on social media, and I am thankful for that."

Islamic dress code in sports

So why did the Iranian media ignore this championship? Niloufar Hamedi, an Iranian sports journalist in Tehran, explains:


Women’s sports aren’t taken seriously by officials in Iran, even since women have started winning many medals in international competitions. But in the past few years, with the growth of social media and the first Olympic medal won by a woman [in 2016, for taekwondo], Iranians have become increasingly interested in women’s sports.”

Fans try to plug in the gaps by sharing information on social media pages, including videos and photos of the matches they attend.

>>READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Iranian men barred from watching female futsal match

Our Observer says women’s sports are a sensitive issue in Iran:


In recent years, Iranian women have been able to start participating in international events after the invention of Islamic sports suits [covering their bodies and hair] and the assent of religious authorities. However, many restrictions remain in place.

One of the main obstacles to the development of women’s sports is that they are not broadcast on TV. While Iranian players observe the Islamic dress code, their adversaries may not, which makes it complicated to broadcast matches on TV.

Following the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian women were unable to participate in international sports competitions for decades, until the advent of Islamic sports suits that were approved by international sporting bodies. During the last decade, many international sports federations – including for football, basketball, volleyball and taekwondo – have adopted these suits, which has allowed not only Iranian women but many women from other Islamic countries to participate in competitions. However, this is not the case for all sports: there are no approved suits for wrestling or swimming, for example.