Middle East

Anger as Iran bars women from US volleyball game

Iranian Islamists shout slogans during a protest against allowing women to sporting stadiums Image copyright EPA
Image caption Hardliners protested against plans to allow women to attend male sporting events

Activists in Iran are angry that women were barred from watching a volleyball game against the US, despite earlier indications they could attend.

There had been reports Iran's sporting federation would permit a limited number of women to watch Friday's game, which Iran won 3-0.

But opposition from the country's hardline conservatives appears to have led the federation to backtrack.

The Islamic country traditionally bars women from male sporting events.

However, in recent months the relatively moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani appeared willing to bow to pressure from activists and international sporting bodies and ease restrictions.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran's vice president for women and family affairs, told reporters last week that a limited number of women - mainly players' family members - would be allowed to attend the volleyball game against the US.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ghoncheh Ghavami made headlines after being jailed for attending a volleyball game in 2014

And earlier this week, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) said it had been assured by Iran that women would be allowed to join spectators for the tie at Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Sports Complex.

But activists' fears were realised on Friday night when women were prevented from watching the game. Female journalists were also denied entry, according to Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency.

The decision led to a protest on social media, with thousands tweeting using the hashtag #LetWomenGoToStadium.

'Prostitutes in stadiums'

There were reports of heavy security around the arena. Protests had been discussed on social media - a Facebook page called "Women's Revolution" invited people to demonstrate outside the stadium.

Religious hardliners had reacted angrily to the apparent softening of restrictions.

Ansar-e Hezbollah, a religious vigilante group, issued a statement earlier this week likening female spectators to prostitutes and calling on its supporters to prevent them from entering the stadium.

"We are taking a stand against legalising the presence of prostitutes… in stadiums," the group said in a flyer distributed in Tehran. "This Friday there will be blood," it added.

Image copyright other
Image caption An Ansar-e Hezbollah flyer warned of blood if women tried to attend the volleyball match

Senior Islamic clerics and officials also denounced the proposals. "We didn't rise up in an Islamic Revolution for the right of women to enter sports stadiums," said Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Alavi Gorgani.

Women's presence at sporting events has become something of a lightning rod for tensions between Iran's religious hardliners and its more progressive elements.

The issue made international headlines in June 2014 when a group of women protested by entering the Azadi stadium to watch a volleyball game between Iran and Italy.

They were arrested and one of them, British-Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami, was held in jail for five months.

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