It seems like it was just yesterday that we were telling you about Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of the Iranian women’s indoor soccer (futsal) team, who was prevented from participating in an international championship because her husband wouldn’t allow her to renew her passport – effectively banning her from flying.
As it turns out, while Iranian women athletes have been fighting for the right to move and compete unrestrictedly, and while female sports fans have been struggling for the right to be spectators – because as VICE recently reminded us, “Stadiums are Still Closed to Women in Iran” – a sports scandal of a different sort has been brewing in the Islamic republic.
Last month, an Iranian league official revealed to a local news website, as well as to Al Jazeera, that eight of the players on Iran’s national women’s football team are in fact men awaiting sex change operations. (The team’s uniform is modest, covering up the players’ hair, arms, and legs – and, apparently, their gender.) The official’s claim triggered shock as well as amusement, being reported on numerous English-language outlets – including ones that don’t usually focus on Iranian affairs – after The Telegraph carried the story in English.
A FIFA doctor eventually examined the players, confirming that they are female, but rumors still abound of their “male inclinations” – possibly because last year, four of the team’s players were actually found to be men or suffering from sexual development disorders.
All in all, we’re glad these rumors got the Western press to take a greater interest in Iran – but hope the serious will be reported alongside the humorous. Not that there’s anything particularly funny about excluding women even from the women’s soccer team, as Iran is known to have done in the past; in a country like Iran, where women’s rights and freedoms are hardly sacrosanct, this latest soccer scandal cannot be disentangled from the plight faced by Ardalan and millions of other Iranian women, both on and off the pitch.