TEHRAN, Iran, Sep 6 – The website of Iran’s main stadium was hacked on Wednesday with a demand that women be allowed to watch football matches, a day after female lawmakers were permitted to attend.
Iran’s nail-biting World Cup qualifier against Syria in Tehran’s Azadi stadium was notable for more than just the last-minute equaliser by the visiting team.
The presence of at least two female lawmakers was thought to be the first time Iranian women were allowed to watch a men’s match since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The next day, the ISNA news agency said the stadium website had been hacked, with a banner placed across the front page for several hours saying: “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums”.
It emerged that the Ministry of Sport had granted special permission for female members of parliament to attend the Syria match following a request by lawmaker Tayebeh Siavoshi.
Some women MPs rejected the offer.
“At a time when girls of this country have no choice but to dress as men to get into the stadium, I as a representative of these people would not like to be present in the stadium by receiving a special permit,” Parvaneh Salahshouri, another member of parliament, told the reformist Shargh newspaper.
“I go in when they too can come in,” she said.
But Siavoshi accepted the invitation, saying it was a sign of progress.
“I believe we should make officials hear our demands through proper channels. I went to the stadium for this very demand,” she told the Etahmad newspaper.
Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar suggested further change could be coming.
“We will try to pave the ground for the presence of families in stadiums by consultation and coordination,” he said, according to the Tasnim news agency.
“I am confident that the fans would respect boundaries which need to be respected.”
– ‘A shame’ –
Female foreigners are allowed to attend matches, and many noted the presence of Syrian women in the crowd at Azadi stadium on Tuesday night.
That prompted a rare comment by one of the announcers on state television, saying it was “a shame” that Iranian women were barred.
Women are not allowed to watch men’s football — and some other sporting events such as wrestling — because the atmosphere is considered too vulgar for them.
Some gather outside the stadium during matches as a protest, while many also sneak through the gates in disguise.
President Hassan Rouhani has vowed greater freedoms for women as part of a liberalising agenda that helped secure him re-election in May.
He has faced criticism from reformists after failing to appoint a single female minister, but his defenders say he is trying to avoid too direct a clash with the conservative establishment and has appointed several women outside the cabinet.
The issue of women and sport remains fraught and unpredictable, with females suddenly banned from volleyball matches in 2014 only to be gradually allowed to return in segregated seats.
This week, there was joy and surprise for female football fans when they were allowed to buy tickets for the Syria match on the Azadi stadium website, only for officials to say this was due to a “technical glitch” and that their tickets would be refunded.