TEHRAN: Iran will not tolerate demonstrations against the presence of women at male sporting events, a government spokesman said Tuesday, after threats from ultraconservatives to disrupt any relaxation of restrictions.
The comments came after one of Iran’s female vice presidents said some women may be allowed to attend two volleyball matches against the United States in Tehran on June 19 and June 21.
Such reforms — Iranian women are currently banned from male sports matches — face opposition, and the recent presence of several women at a male basketball match sparked controversy.
According to social media and local newspapers, the radical Islamist group Ansar Hezbollah has said the Islamic republic’s government should reconsider their plans or face possible protests.
In a sign of the tension, Ahmad Salek Kashani, head of parliament’s cultural commission, told Ansar Hezbollah’s weekly magazine: “Women who are allowed to enter the stadiums, what are they going to watch? Is it anything other than men’s bodies that have been left bare because of sports clothes?”
But Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, a government spokesman, said disorder would be dealt with.
“If there are going to be demonstrations, we will definitely not allow it and we ask the judiciary to stand up to any lawbreakers,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
And referring to comments by Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, Nobakht said any policy changes “should definitely undergo a process”.
“If required, I will ask Ms Molaverdi to hold a complementary interview on this issue this week and the media will be informed,” he said.
The issue of women attending male sporting events was highlighted last year by the arrest of a British-Iranian law graduate, Ghoncheh Ghavami, outside a volleyball match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
She was sentenced to one year in jail but freed on bail after serving five months of her sentence, although she is still under a two-year travel ban.
Iranian officials have said Ghavami was arrested for offences unrelated to the volleyball match, notably for having contacts with the “opposition based abroad” and propaganda against the regime.
Volleyball’s world governing body, the FIVB, banned Iran from hosting international tournaments in November, citing Ghavami’s case.
That ban however does not apply to World League fixtures set earlier. Iran has also said foreign women will be allowed to attend male volleyball matches this summer.
Despite Molaverdi’s comments, Iranian officials have said any general order allowing women to attend male games would be announced by the sports ministry.
No such official decision has yet been publicized.