Iranian women volleyball fans were turned away from an international match against the U.S. in Tehran on Friday, as authorities backtracked on promises to ease the ban on their attendance.
Both the Interior Ministry and the vice president for women’s and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, had signaled in recent weeks that restrictions would be loosened. But spectators, female journalists and even the deputy director of the Iranian Volleyball Federation, Zohreh Mirsepasi, were told by officials at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran that their entry passes had not been authorized.
Among the restrictions on women in the Islamic Republic is a ban on attending men’s spectator sports such as soccer, swimming and wrestling, because officials say the atmosphere at stadiums can become un-Islamic and inappropriate.
Last year a British-Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, was arrested trying to attend a volleyball game in Tehran. She spent more than four months in jail before her release on bail in November.
Volleyball has become a popular sport in Iran in recent years due to the success of the country’s national team.
The Iranian Volleyball Federation confirmed that a small number of women who are friends or family of the players were invited to Friday’s game and will be seated in the foreign guests enclosure.
Maryam, a 23-year old student, had made the six-hour car journey with her husband and step-son from the central city of Esfahan.
“I came all the way here because they said women would be allowed to watch. I heard it on state TV,” said Maryam, who declined to give her surname because of the risk of reprisals for Iranians who speak to foreign media.