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Iran’s volleyball ban : Half the freedom

The rise of the Iranian volleyball team began seven or eight years ago. A second-place finish at the 2009 Asian championship was followed by the 2011 victory in Tehran, described by Sara. The players were hailed as heroes, the games became an event for Iranians of both genders, some got caught in a volleyball frenzy. These days, on weekends in Tehran, Thursday nights, Fridays at dusk, it is hard to find a park without pick-up games of volleyball going on. Men and women play, as do boys and girls. They play, and they play together. The green spots in this megalopolis with its 12 or 14 million people turn into sporting grounds, and the air, often enough polluted, emanates a joie de vivre in these hours that seems to put the cliché of the joyless empire of the mullah to rest.

Joie de vivre: Pick-up volleyball in a Tehran park on April 2, 2015, the Sizdeh bedar holiday

The conservatives however, who are very fond of this cliché, and who are very much alive, became fed up with the joy that their people found in watching sport together.  And so in 2012 and up to this day, women were not only barred from soccer stadiums, but also from volleyball tournaments. And while the conservatives in Iran were very content with this situation, yet another sports federation broke its own rules, the non-discrimination clause set out in the Sixth Fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter. Yet, Iran's discriminatory policy did not prevent the Asian nor the International Volleyball federation from awarding Tehran international events.

The 2015 Asian championship was played in the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran's western parts. The complex is another of Mohammad Reza Shah’s great plans. The 1984 Olympic Games were supposed to be hosted on the premises that he had called Aryamehr Complex, in his own honour. The revolution extinguished the light of the Aryans and the complex, with its soccer stadium and indoor sports arena, was renamed - „Azadi“ („Freedom“) complex. And yet the international federation, the FIVB, that states in its own constitution that it „shall not discriminate between  individuals” allowed the Iranian men’s national team play its FIVB World League Games in this arena. Azadi? Freedom? Not for women. Not at football games. Nor at volleyball games.

Very much alive: Conservative demonstrators calling to uphold the ban for women prior to the 2015 World League matches in Tehran

Minky Worden, Director for Global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, is one of those who deems it scandalous that the FIVB has now awarded the Iranian federation the right to host its beach volleyball tournament. “They break their own rules”, Worden says. Compare this for example to what would happen in the case of doping.”

The FIVB sent the F.A.Z. this answer by email: “The FIVB is in regular contact with the local authorities in Iran to ensure that families have access to the Kish Island Open event in Iran. The organisers confirmed at the FIVB World Tour Council meeting that there will be free access to the public.”

So who will be free to to attend the matches on Kish Island? What is the definition of a „family“?  And does free access to the public entail free access for all women? Richard Baker, the FIVB’s communications director, confirmed by phone, that the organisers have confirmed that no one will be barred at the turnstiles. A small volleyball revolution in Iran then, on Kish Island?

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