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Iran-Syria soccer game surrounded by major controversy

SyrianAl-Monitor - Iranian authorities' move to stop Iranian women from entering the Tehran stadium where the Sept. 5 soccer match between Iran and Syria was held has stirred controversy as Syrian women were let in to enjoy the game.


On Sept. 2, when ticket sales began on a website for the Iran-Syria 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier, a new choice was available — women as well as men were allowed to buy tickets.

This caused a stir as women in Iran aren't allowed to enter soccer stadiums to watch games; some officials say that cursing and a number of other possible "immoral" actions by male fans may offend women.

Meanwhile, Iran's Soccer Federation said there was no plan for allowing women to enter the stadium. Despite this statement, many women had apparently bought tickets to watch their national team.

On Sept. 5, hours before the match started, it was reported that a group of Iranian women had gathered in front of Tehran's Azadi stadium to try to attend the game. While this didn't happen, Syrian women who had bought tickets were allowed to enter the stadium without any attempts from stadium officials to stop them.

Many social network activists described this as humiliating and insulting to Iranian women as they could see Syrian women entering the stadium freely. There were also reports that a number of Iranian women tried to deceive the security forces by disguising themselves as Syrian women and waving the Syrian flag.

A few minutes before the beginning of the match, Peyman Yousefi, the state TV sportscaster, expressed his disappointment over the lack of presence of Iranian women at the stadium; this complaint, which was practically unprecedented, attracted much attention.

A group of female members of the Iranian parliament who back the right of Iranian women to attend soccer matches demanded that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports give the legislators permission to attend the game. Three female lawmakers were indeed granted such permission.

Tayyebeh Siavoshi, a female member of parliament, making reference to how Syrian women easily entered the Azadi stadium, said Sept. 5, "If the law [says] that women must not enter stadiums, then no woman should be exempt [from this law]." Moreover, Parvane Salahshouri, another female member of parliament, said Sept. 5 that she wouldn't attend the match in protest against the decision to permit only a few women lawmakers to attend the game and not all Iranian women.

Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, a female aide to moderate president Hassan Rouhani on citizens' rights, tweeted Sept. 5, "Based on Article 89 of the Citizens' Rights Charter, it is the right of all citizens, especially women, to have access to all sports and educational facilities ... and to attend [events at] the national and international sports arenas while protecting their Iranian and Islamic culture."

Iranian media closely covered the controversy. On Sept. 6, the Reformist daily Vaghaye Etefaghie published a picture of Syrian women on its front page and described them as the only winner of the match, which ended in a 2-2 tie. Furthermore, the Reformist newspaper Bahar ran the headline "Iranian paradox," protesting the refusal to allow Iranian women to enter the stadium while Syrian women were free to do so.

Meanwhile, moderate Grand Ayatollah Hassan Sanei said Sept. 6 that there is no issue with the presence of women at sports stadiums. Mohsen Gharavian, a senior Reformist cleric, told a local media outlet that the government should prepare the grounds for letting women into stadiums by taking values, ethics and security issues into account. "Just as the government managed to pave the way for the presence of women at volleyball matches, the same thing can happen for soccer [matches]," Gharavian said Sept. 6.

In the meantime, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Sept. 6 that a group of hackers had taken over the Azadi stadium's website to show their anger at the decision to discriminate against Iranian women when it came to the Iran-Syria match.

In reaction to the protests, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Masoud Soltanifar said Sept. 6 that he would work to pave the way for Iranian women to be able to attend games at stadiums.