Responding to a report filed by his cabinet’s sports minister, President Hassan Rouhani has suggested that women’s access to Tehran’s main stadium, Azadi, should continue.
Meanwhile, the general manager of Azadi (Freedom) stadium, Nasser Mahmoudifar, who let Iranian women enter the arena after almost four decades of being banned, says he has been fired for doing so.
“For the very first time since the Islamic Revolution , families attended Azadi Stadium to watch the matches of the Iranian national football team with their opponents [Portugal] at the Russia World Cup 2018 on the big screens, while observing all Islamic protocols,” Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Masoud Soltanifar had earlier reported to Rouhani.
According to Soltanifar’s report, “The event not only garnered massive support from football fans, but it also created a joyful and lively atmosphere among the youth and families and received good feedback on social media from inside and outside the country.”
He went on to thank Rouhani, the interior and intelligence ministers, police personnel, and Tehran’s governor for aiding the opportunity for the presence of families and women at stadiums, particularly Azadi Stadium, state-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) reported.
Rouhani, for his part, called for the continued access of women to Azadi Stadium “in an appropriate manner and in cooperation with the Interior Ministry.”
However, it is not yet clear whether Rouhani’s directive is limited to Azadi Stadium for watching soccer games on the big screens.
The Rouhani administration has repeatedly promised to end the “unwritten ban” on Iranian women’s access to sports arenas.
Furthermore, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on March 2 that he had been told by Rouhani of plans to allow Iranian women to attend football matches in the country “soon.”
A day after meeting with Rouhani in Tehran, Infantino told reporters at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, “I was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon. President Rouhani told me that in countries such as (Iran), these things take a bit of time.”
Moreover, Rouhani on May 22 insisted the decades-long ban on women’s access to sports arenas should be lifted.
"There should be no difference between men and women in Islam, and for that reason women should also be allowed to take part in sports events," Rouhani said at a meeting with Iranian athletes in his office on May 22, according to a statement released by his office.
The debate over women’s access to sports stadiums in the Iran dates back to May 2006, when hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to reverse his decision to allow women to attend soccer matches.
Ahmadinejad backed down on his earlier pledge about a month before the Iranian national squad's matches in the World Cup soccer championship in Germany, immediately after bitter comments by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and ultraconservative clergy opposing Ahmadinejad’s decision
In April 2006, Ahmadinejad had said he would let women attend soccer matches in a separate section of the stands to "improve soccer-watching manners, and promote a healthy atmosphere."
Opening the gates of Azadi Stadium to women to watch the Iran vs. Portugal match on the big screens angered an ultraconservative cleric to the extent that he lambasted Rouhani’s government.
"It is not glorious to allow women enter an arena for watching soccer games,” Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani roared.
Safi Golpayegani, who is “officially” recognized as a grand ayatollah and “source of emulation” by the Islamic establishment, has repeatedly voiced his opposition to women participating in sports activities.
Earlier, in an open letter on June 22, prominent women of Iranian origin including Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Shappi Khorsandi, a comedian and patron of the Brirish Humanist Association, Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, and legendary singer Googoosh had urged FIFA to force Iran to end the implementation of the discriminatory unwritten law banning Iranian women from entering sports arenas where male athletes compete with each other.
"We call on FIFA to stand on its principles, hold Iran accountable for violating one of FIFA's most fundamental statutes, and demand that the Islamic Republic permanently end the ban on female attendance," said the signatories led by actress, board member of New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), and a spokeswoman for Amnesty International USA, Nazanin Boniadi.
Azadi (formerly known as Aryamehr, after Iran’s last monarch) was inaugurated on October 18, 1971, and is still the largest sports complex in Iran.
Women could freely attend sports matches at the stadium before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.