About hundred women watched a friendly match between Iran and Bolivia. Pictures and videos of happy women spectators made it on the net and into newspapers. For supporters, this is a "step forward". Hard-liners slammed the decision, including Iran’s chief prosecutor who is threatening harsh measures. For critics, women’s presence is harmful and sinful.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian authorities' decision to allow a small selected group of women to watch a friendly football (soccer) match between Iran and Bolivia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on Tuesday has sparked mixed reactions.
Reformists and moderates, including several newspapers close to the government, have expressed support, describing it as a "step forward" and a victory for the country’s women. By contrast, right-wing hard-liners and conservatives slammed the decision calling it a “sin”.
For decades, Iran’s clerical regime has imposed a total ban on women at men’s sporting events. However, the anti-conformist decision to open one of Tehran’s stadium was welcomed by many, especially those who have been fighting for a long time to lift such a ban.
Iranian state news agency ILNA said about a hundred women watched Tuesday's friendly match between the Iranian and Bolivian national teams from a women's-only section in the upper stands of Azadi Stadium. Iran won the match 2-1.
The group of female spectators included female employees of Iran's football federation and members of the Iranian women's national football team, along with female journalists and other women allowed in the stadium at the last minute.
Iranian newspapers and websites relayed pictures and videos of female spectators singing the national anthem, cheering from the stands and celebrating the two goals that gave Iran the victory over the Bolivian team.
"One Step Forward" read the headline on the front page of the reformist Etemad daily, which featured the picture of a woman standing in the stadium holding Iranian flags. The headline on the front page of the pro-reform Sharq daily read, "Freedom Greets Iranian Women." The sports dailies Iran-Varzeshi and Khabar-Varzeshi also featured images of the women on their front pages with headlines that read, "Women Reached Freedom" or "Women in Freedom."
However, other Iranians are none too happy about this small revolution, and were not shy about saying so. One of them is Iran’s hard-line chief prosecutor, Mohammad Javad Montazeri, who warned that action will be taken "if such moves continue."
"The presence of women in stadiums is harmful and there's no religious justification for it," Montazeri was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
"When a woman goes to the stadium and sees half-naked men, it's a sin," Montazeri said. "We will first give advice, then we will act," he added, noting that there will be action against officials who want to allow women in stadiums.
Conservatives have claimed that the ban on women attending major men's sporting events protects them from hearing crude language and seeing male athletes wearing revealing uniforms.
Women's rights activists have blasted the ban as an example of gender discrimination in the Islamic republic, where Islamic laws deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody, and work.
Brussels-based women's rights campaigner Darya Safai dismissed the admission of female spectators into Azadi Stadium as a "trick" by Iranian authorities.
"As long as women cannot buy tickets, the stadium ban is not lifted," she said. There were no reports of Iranian women being able to buy tickets for the match.