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January 27, 2009

Tehran’s hypocrisy on women’s rights; soccer edition

On Monday January 20th for the first time since the 1979 revolution, a soccer match involving men vs. women took place in Iran. Unfortunately, government officials were none too pleased at the watershed match.

Esteghlal, one of Iran’s top soccer clubs, said it suspended two officials for a year and a third for six months. A fourth official was fined 50 million rial ($5000).

Though the coaches of either team denied the accusations of a co-ed competition, videos, taped by cell phones, were used as evidence to the contrary.

Since 1979 Iranian soccer teams have not only been segregated by sex, but women have been forbidden to attend male games, even if a loved one is playing. In 2006, Supreme leader Ali Khamenei stated that this prohibition was put in place to protect women from the offensive language that breaks out in heated competitions.

Prohibitions like these are turning back the clock on Iran’s attempts at progressivism, feminism, and liberalism. The more Iran attempts to control every aspect of their citizens’ lives, the more they are proving human rights accusations that are brought against them.

After taking every type of public transportation, shopping in crowded bazaars, and eating at local Iranian restaurants, I can say without any doubt in my mind that the language I heard in the streets of Iran was just as offensive–if not more so–than the language I’ve heard at soccer tournaments.

As a child, the Farsi words I learned–specifically the ones that got me sent to my room–were words I learned from walking around the streets. Because of this, I was bewildered by the justification the Supreme leader gave for restricting a woman’s ability to watch a male soccer game.

Regardless of whether Khamenei’s reasons for this prohibition are fact or fictional; it is ridiculous all the same.

Soccer is a treasured sport in Iran. Female citizens in Iran are as proud of their national sport as any other citizen. A 20 year old soccer fan, Mina Tehrani stated, “We’re out here like beggars in our own country trying to support our own nation’s team. Are we not Iranians? Are our cheers less important?”

To deny them this basic joy is no different than denying them their ability to have pride in their nation.

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