Iran doesn’t openly allow women to attend sporting events. This may be about to change as a temporary waiver now exempts women who want to attend one specific game from any legal repercussion. Will this pave a way for a more secular approach towards female sports fans?
A Top League Game and the Female Audience
Hundreds of Iranian women were allowed to attend a Tehran football match game, following 37 years of vetoing such privileges. As a result, estimated 500 women turned up for the Asia Champions League finals held in Tehran. The audience itself numbered as many as 80,000 people, the majority of whom were understandably men.
Even though most of the attendees were related to the footballers themselves, the fact that women could attend was seen as an important move towards the secularization of sport and finally allowing women to throw their support behind sporting events, beginning with European football.
— Katayoun Katiana Khosrowyar (@katkhosrowyar) October 16, 2018
Iran is not a country that yields under international pressure, but FIFA, the world’s football governing football, has done significant progress, encouraging the government to have a more open and inclusive approach towards women at special events. Though foreign fans have been allowed to attend, there has been some controversy about women showing up at sporting events, with reported arrests throughout the years.
Local news revealed that estimated 500 female spectators attended the game between Kashima Antlers, the Japanese team, and the local Persepolis team, named after the Persian Empire, and the country’s most popular one. Speaking of controversy, however, in March 2018, 35 women were detained for attempting to join the crowd for another top match with Persepolis.
Conversely, during the World Cup in June, women were allowed to watch their national team. In another case, 100 women were allowed to watch a game between the national teams of Iran and Bolivia.
Iran’s Sports Popularity
Despite its relatively secluded mode of existence, Iranian sports are in high regard all across the country. Football is the clear winner in terms of popularity, but it’s followed by other athletic disciplines, such as wrestling and volleyball. The national football team also enjoys immense support by fans, which is often the source of tension between female supporters and authorities.
Iran has not always been a place where women were banned from attending games. The turn of fortunes came around 37 years ago when the Iranian Revolution saw the secular government crumble and a new more religiously conservative one come to power.
Going to these soccer matches, supporting your team, being mainstream at an international soccer tournament, it’s a way to say, we’re normal. -Middle East Institute analyst Alex Vatanka cited by the Washington Post
The soft opposition of women in Iranian football continues, nevertheless. Apart from the open debate that is taking place, there have been also the continuous efforts of female supporters to gain entrance to matches by disguising themselves as men, wearing fake moustaches and beards.
According to local specialists, the fact that women are slowly being allowed to make a public appearance independently is a good sign for the Iranian civil society.
And yet, the civil society is slowly becoming more open and liberal, albeit the power of the ruling government can still be felt across every walk of life in Iran.