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Women Denied Entry to Volleyball Event: That’s the Real Crime

 

Women Denied Entry to Volleyball Event: That’s the Real Crime Farah had been looking forward to this week.

The plan was to fly to the white, silky sands of Kish Island, a small coral resort island in the Persian Gulf, about 10 miles off the southern coast of Iran. There, Farah would attend an international beach volleyball tournament that was being held in Iran for the first time.

It was not a simple excursion. Farah was to be among the first women allowed inside a stadium in Iran to watch volleyball since 2012, when a law barring women from attending soccer games was expanded to include volleyball, which was growing in popularity. In 2014, a British-Iranian activist was jailed just for trying to attend a match. That’s why Farah, as an Iranian, is afraid to have her last name published.

But last spring, officials in Iran signaled their willingness to end the ban, and the international volleyball federation assured critics of its decision to hold an event in Iran that women would be allowed to attend. The federation said Iranian volleyball officials had given their word as well.

It was not a simple excursion. Farah was to be among the first women allowed inside a stadium in Iran to watch volleyball since 2012, when a law barring women from attending soccer games was expanded to include volleyball, which was growing in popularity. In 2014, a British-Iranian activist was jailed just for trying to attend a match. That’s why Farah, as an Iranian, is afraid to have her last name published.

So Farah and another woman from the advocacy group Open Stadiums — an organization that for years has campaigned for women to be allowed into stadiums in Iran — flew in hoping to watch the matches early in the week, during qualifying. But when they arrived at the free event, a plainclothes security officer stopped them at the gate.

“Honestly, I thought because here is a free-zone island, they would let women go there, but they did not, despite all the promises,” Farah wrote in an email. “It’s annoying that simple things like watching volleyball is a crime here.”

The international volleyball federation, known as the FIVB, an abbreviation for its French name, said it was only a “misunderstanding” that the women were not allowed into the stadiums during qualifying. An FIVB statement the next day, Wednesday, said that women “for the most part” were allowed to watch the men’s tournament, “a first in recent years.”

But in an email to me, Farah disputed that claim, saying that “they’re lying,” and that security forces were again posted at the gate. She said that it would be dangerous for her or other women even to try to gain entry. On Tuesday, after she had been turned away, Farah heard sounds from a nearby cafe where women were cheering the matches as they watched from the rooftop. So she joined them. On Wednesday, she again watched the matches from a nearby roof.

In the back and forth between the volleyball federation and Farah, though, I had to stop and think: Why are we even debating this?

It should not be a victory for volleyball that women “for the most part” were allowed entry into an event, or for an international sports body to claim that as a success.

The federation must recognize that women should be allowed to watch its sporting events, just as men are, and that it must hold accountable national federations and event organizers that bar them. Anything less than that violates the Olympic charter, which has a section on antidiscrimination, and also the volleyball federation’s own set of antidiscrimination rules.

If Iran cannot follow international standards for equality, then it should not be awarded international sporting events, like the one this week on Kish Island, or the Volleyball World League matches scheduled to be played this summer in Tehran.

But the federation seems deaf to this. It awarded the tournament on Kish Island and the World League matches to Iran last fall, only months after women were barred from World League matches last summer at Azadi Stadium in Tehran. (Contrarily, Azadi means “freedom” in Persian.) […]

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