Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Iran: Female Fans Play Political Football

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Iran: Female Fans Play Political Football

Article excerpt

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered an end last month to Iran's ban on women attending football matches, he said the change would bring "chastity" and "morality" to the stands. It certainly won't bring any carefree mingling, because stadiums will be strictly segregated, as are many other public spaces in Iran, such as buses, coffee shops and university campuses.

The conservative Shia mullahs, however, responded with a fatwa against the decision. No one is sure what happens next, but if recent history is any guide, it is the clergy who will find themselves exposed as out of touch with a population which, in football at least, will not bow to their authority.

The mullahs have never liked the beautiful game. The ban on women at matches dates from immediately after the Islamic revolution of 1979. And when, amid general jubilation, Iran qualified for the World Cup finals of 1998, the clergy sourly dismissed the football mania as an artificial construct of sporting imperialism.

People took little notice and the celebrations went ahead. Now, with Iran's team soon heading for Germany to play in this year's World Cup (they are drawn in a group with Mexico, Portugal and Angola), it may be that the public will be ready again to ignore the clergy.

The campaign is no foreign invention. It was nine years ago that thousands of women invaded the Freedom Stadium in Tehran to join the celebrations after the national team qualified for the 1998 tournament, and there have been many smaller protests in the succeeding years, even though they often meet fierce police repression. …

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