Iran’s volleyball ban : Half the freedom

Not so fast. Baker added that the “regular contact with local authorities” referred to regular contact with the Iranian Federation who is organising the tournament. Apparently, the world body is unable to penetrate Tehran’s political circles. But politicians control the laws of the country, not the Iranian volleyball federation. An Iranian journalist in Tehran observed: „It is not up to the Iranian federation to decide on women in the arenas, not even to the sports minister. The national security council has to approve.” And even if that is done, nothing may change. “It only takes a disapproving mullah in Qom”, he added with regard to the theological centre of the Iranian Shiites, where politics are still made.

Conservatives took to the streets

Indeed, Mohamad Reza Davarzani, president of the Iranian Volleyball federation had promised very similar things ahead of the World League games last year. In the spring of 2015, he made pledges to the FIVB and the women’s rights group. Sara wrote: “Some women went to Davarzani’s office. He promised he would find a way to get them into the arena if they did not make a fuss ahead of the matches.” Entry to Azadi hall in return for the promise not to take to the streets?  “In my experience, it was a lie and a trick”, Sara added.

But even Shahindokht Molaverdi, Vice President in President Hasan Rouhani’s cabinet, had promised a reversal of the laws on discrimination against women in volleyball, basketball, team handball, and tennis. But this led the conservatives to take to the streets. They staged demonstrations in Tehran, denounced female spectators wanting to watch men’s matches, called  entry for women at these sports „the advancement of prostitution“ – and won. No female spectators were allowed to attend the World League matches against the United States, apart from foreigners traveling with their team.

Supporting their heroes: The male crowd at Azadi complex during the 2015 World League matches between Iran and the United States

Shahindokht Molaverdi, a reformist in Rouhani’s government that came to power after the 2013 presidential election, posted on Facebook: A “crowd of sanctimonious people who published one pamphlet after another denouncing the modest and decent girls and women of this land” had “used obscene and disgusting insults that only befit themselves”.

This generated some headlines, but as Sara wrote: “I tried to point out the mistakes: a vice-president does not have the power to let us into the arenas.” The conservative demonstrators, some of them members of the Basij, the unofficial militia run by the Revolutionary Guards, who had violently suppressed the protests after the 2009 presidential election, had threatened to turn the arenas into pits of blood, if women were allowed to attend. Molaverdi, said the Iranian journalist, got “worn down” by the conservatives. At Azadi complex, it was business as usual during the World League matches. No entry. No freedom.

The tattoo non-starter

But during the fall of 2015, President Rouhani showed his willingness to stand up to the conservatives in the sporting federations, at least to some extent. After the female indoor soccer team was told by its own federation there was no money to send them to Guatemala for the Futsal World Tournament, Rouhani decreed the team was allowed to travel.

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