Has anything changed since Iran announced (way back in April) that it would finally overturn its ban on women in sports stadiums in the wake of the global furor over the arrest of British-Iranian “volleyball prisoner” Ghoncheh Ghavami?
Since April, many a match has been played in Iran – most recently, a very high-profile “battle” (or “endgame,” if you’d prefer – the Western coverage of it was rife with martial metaphors) in which the US volleyball team faced off – twice! – against its Iranian rival in a World League showdown (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves, either). In both matches, to quote an apt caption helpfully provided by The New York Times, “the Islamic Republic creamed the Great Satan, 3-0.”
While NYT’s report on the match, written by Robin Wright, deftly dissected the athletic encounter and its outcome in light of the ongoing negotiations – or, dare we say, gymnastics – over a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1, the report contained nary a word on the presence or absence of women among the “12,000 cheering fans” at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
So were there or weren’t there? If photos released by IRNA are any indication, there were half a dozen women and one girl. And yet, there is proof enough that women were actually banned and barred from attending the match following objections from religious conservatives – despite the April announcement pledging to soften the ban. Though Iran assured the international volleyball federation that women would be allowed to attend the high-profile games, The Guardian’s Jim Powell reported that it eventually deployed a “large police presence” outside the arena to ensure that “female spectators and journalists” stayed out.
The bitter irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Powell, who noted in both the headline and underline of his piece that “Azadi” – the name of the stadium in which the matches took place – means “freedom.” Some freedom!