Iran to let foreign women watch male volleyball event


Tehran: Iran will break with custom and allow foreign women to attend male volleyball matches when it hosts a major tournament this summer, but female Iranian nationals will remain barred.

The decision, announced Wednesday by Iran’s Volleyball Federation, comes almost three months after the sport’s governing body, the FIVB, said it would not allow the Islamic republic to host international events while its gender policies remained in place.

Women in Iran are not normally allowed to watch male athletes in competition, with authorities saying the restriction protects them from potentially abusive behaviour among male fans.

However, the policy courted controversy when a British-Iranian female law graduate was arrested outside a stadium in the capital last June, having gone there to watch a volleyball match.

The woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, was freed after a few hours but then re-arrested and jailed for months before being released on bail in November.

Iranian authorities have said she was detained for security reasons unrelated to the volleyball match.

Her case triggered FIVB’s punishment on Iran, but Wednesday’s announcement relates to a men’s championship organised by the Asian Volleyball Confederation, which has autonomous powers.

“Foreign women as employees of embassies, the families of foreign teams or other foreign women living in Iran can attend the competition,” Iranian federation president Mahmoud Afshardoost told the official IRNA news agency.

Part of the 12,000-seat stadium being used for the July 31-August 8 event will be allocated to women, he said.

Iran’s volleyball team is one of the best in the world and very popular at home. It finished sixth in the World Championships in Poland last year and was fourth at the World League tournament.

At the time of the FIVB’s ruling, Iran rejected the decision as unfair, and alluding to Ghavami’s case, said that “to make a connection between a non-sporting activity and our sport is unfair”. – AFP