Last month, in the wake of the international uproar over the arrest of British-Iranian “volleyball prisoner” Ghoncheh Ghavami, Iran announced that it would finally overturn its ban on women in sports stadiums – and dismiss the case against Ghavami, who spent nearly five months in jail for her “crimes.”
Well, not exactly overturn – more like “reverse,” or maybe just “relax.” Or simply “ease” (that was also PressTV’s choice of words) as part of a plan to make Iranian stadiums more family-friendly (and therefore, presumably, more Islamic) – but not in the case of “masculine” sports, like swimming.
And yet, the move was widely seen by the press as a victory for Iranian women – particularly those of the younger generation, who, according to Al Monitor’s Masoud Lavasani, had previously had to resort to attending matches in male garb to defy the limitations imposed on them (they will still have to do this to attend football matches, as the “easing” of restrictions, if approved despite hardline objections, will apply mostly to volleyball stadiums).
Like Al Monitor, The Guardian’s Tehran also shed some light on the efforts of Iranian women to defy the ban – for example, by participating in a “women’s world” of lower-budget organized sports, “paradoxically made possible by gender segregation and strict veiling policies.”
Will allowing women full and equal participation in sports – as athletes and as spectators alike – be addressed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pledged to end discrimination against women? Are such allowances even possible in an Islamic republic where, in the words of The Guardian, clerics believe a woman’s “virtue” is threatened by athletic activity, described by one religious authority as “extending her leg to kick someone and bring us medals”?