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Iran's Judiciary Signals A Less Restrictive Position On Women Attending Men's Sports

A limited group of Iranian women were allowed to attend Asian Champions League football final in Tehran on November 10, 2018.

The deputy head of Iran's judiciary says women can be allowed to go to stadiums to watch men’s sports if certain "conditions" are met.

"Women attending matches at the sports arenas, is not a problem, per se," says mid-ranking cleric Hadi Sadeqi, adding, "They are allowed to go to sports arenas, as men are, provided a number of moral and religious matters and standards are respected."

Sadeqi's comments are in sharp contrast with earlier remarks made by Iran's Prosecutor-General on the same subject. Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has repeatedly warned that his office would not tolerate women entering sports arenas, watching “half-naked” soccer players running on the pitch.

Women watching footballers "leads to sin," Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, speaking in the city of Qazvin, said on October 14. "I object to the presence of women in Azadi Stadium yesterday. We are a Muslim state, we are Muslims. We will deal with any official who wants to allow women inside sports venues under any pretext."

State-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) quoted Montazeri as also stressing, "When a woman enters a stadium and sees half-naked men in sports jerseys, it will lead to sinful acts."

Moreover, Montazeri cautioned, "If repeated, I will order the Tehran prosecutor-general to step in."

Nevertheless, it seems that the country's judiciary has decided to slightly change its position on the controversial issue, by setting some rules to allow women watch men's sports matches.

Describing women's attendance at stadiums as a fact that is not a problem in itself, Sadeqi has suggested that there could be ways to let women watch men's sports freely.

There are two "indispositions" involved in the case," Sadeqi has maintained, adding, one is the fact that "watching naked stranger men by women is banned by Islamic regulations", second, the "immoral and inappropriate environment of stadiums is not suitable for women".

However, Sadeqi has argued, "As the naked stranger men (players) are far away from the spectators, the problem needs further technical religious analysis. Therefore, we can discuss the case with foqaha (Shi'ite jurists, Grand Ayatollahs and sources of emulation)."

Dropping the ball into the court of managers of the sports arenas, the cleric said, "It is up to the managers of the stadiums to prepare a morally suitable environment where women would also be able to watch men's sports events."

Almost four decades ago, before the downfall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iranian women were free to attend sports arenas and watch any sports competition alongside men.

Nevertheless, almost immediately after the Islamic Revolution led by the conservative clergy, women were banned from attending stadiums on the basis of an "unwritten law".

Almost forty years later, the debate over the controversial issue has become more contentious.

The outspoken deputy speaker of Majles (parliament), Ali Motahari believes that women should be permitted to watch men's soccer matches, but letting them attend arenas where men are competing in the fields such as swimming, basketball, and volleyball is against Sharia.

Meanwhile, several hardline clergymen, including the Qom-based Nasser Makarem Shirazi, who is officially recognized as a "Grand Ayatollah", are vehemently against allowing Iranian women watch live men's soccer matches at stadiums.

Ninety-one-year-old Makarem Shirazi insisted last December that the presence of women in stadiums “inevitably” leads to "morally corrupt acts".

Another ultraconservative clergyman also lambasted President Hassan Rouhani’s government last June for letting women enter Tehran’s main sports arena (Azadi stadium) and watch Iranian national football squad's televised soccer match against Spain.

“It is not glorious to allow women to enter an arena for watching soccer games,” 99-year old official Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani roared.

The ultraconservative cleric has also gone further, insisting “gender segregation in Iran’s universities” should be enforced “at any cost”.

Twelve years ago, the Islamic Republic’s former President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself considered a conservative, in an executive order lifted the ban, but the order was not implemented after the top Ayatollahs opposed it.

Rouhani has also repeatedly promised to lift the ban, without delivering, so far.

Meanwhile, the international soccer body, FIFA, says that banning women from watching football games is against its regulations, and Iran should address the problem, otherwise its soccer sides will be banned from participating in international competitions.