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The world should be playing hardball with sexist Iran

November 3, 2015
Peyvand Khorsandi
3 min read
Iranians in Europe protest against women not allowed to attend matches in Iran
Iranians in Europe protest against women not allowed to attend matches in Iran

In volleyball, a “spike” is when you whack the airborne ball into the opposing team’s court such that they can’t hit back.

According to Human Rights Watch, the International Men’s Volleyball Federation is in a position to do just that – by withdrawing from Iran the privilege of hosting a men’s beach volleyball tournament in February.

Too right. Why should a country that operates gender segregation on its beaches, and bars women from watching matches, be allowed to host a beach volleyball tournament, of all things?

If you’re not familiar with Iran, get this: if the enforcement of repressive clothing for women were lifted for just one day, people would hit the beaches in droves; swimwear sales would skyrocket. If the ban on alcohol were removed for a day, the port of Bandar Abbas would give Miami a run for its money: Margaritas and piña coladas galore. Iran’s beaches would be the party capital of the world. But that is such a faraway prospect that you might as well imagine the supreme leader and other officials handing themselves in to the police. “Sorry officer, I’m guilty of some rather serious human rights abuses. Am all yours.” (The police, in turn, would hand themselves in to themselves, presumably.)

The sad thing is that after this year’s nuclear deal thingy – where Iran has agreed to leave taunting the West with nukes to Kim Jong-un, in return for some trade – it’s more likely that we’ll see its rulers join the UN’s Human Rights Council than be held accountable for any crimes.

One thing’s for sure: The International Men’s Volleyball Federation is going to find it hard to explain the absence of women to the Brazilian players. Bunch of guys get to watch another bunch of guys jumping around in Lycra – lovely.

From the perspective of Iran’s Islamist government, only a hussy would do something so base as watch a soccer match live. Only a hooker would want to watch – I can barely say it – a man kick a ball to another man.

In June last year, British-born Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami was jailed for remonstrating after trying to enter a stadium to watch a volleyball match in Tehran. The 26-year-old was finally released, after five months of hungers strikes and global pressure.

In September, soccer star Nilufar Ardalan was banned from attending an international tournament because her husband would not sign the papers. (You guessed it: a woman needs her husband’s consent in order to leave the country).

Then there is 29-year-old artist Atena Farghadani, who is serving a 12-year jail sentence for drawing a cartoon depicting government officials with animal heads.

Empower female millennials to make the world a better place? In Iran, it’s easier to jail women who dare to disrupt.

Fortunately, Human Rights Watch is on the case. It’s launched a short video to highlight how ridiculous it is to refuse women entry into sports arenas. In the animation, below, a silhouetted girl socks a volleyball at the gates of a stadium – which obediently open. For that girl to step out of the shade today, however, requires the good fight Iranian women are putting up every day. And they got game.

Find out more about Human Right Watch’s Watch4Women campaign here. Join Brazilian Olympic volleyball gold medalist Tandara Caxeita in voicing your support for Iranian women on HRW’s #Watch4Women.


This article originally appeared on


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