Well-respected football and futsal player, Nilufar Ardalan, was dismissed from the national futsal team after her husband banned her from taking part in the 2015 AFC Futsal Championship.
Futsal, which is a modified form of football, is traditionally played on a smaller, typically indoor, pitch with five players.
“Prominent futsal player Nilufar Ardalan was preparing to play in the first ever female Iranian team at an Asian tournament. But just before she submitted her passport to the Iranian Football Association, her husband told her she couldn’t go,” reported Tasnim news agency.
Nilufar Ardalan, 30, is married to Mehdi Tutunchi, a television sports presenter. They have one son together, Radan.
“This is the first year that women are able to take part in the Asian Championships and I was one of the women being trained for them by Ms Soleymani,” Mrs Ardalan said. “But my husband refused to give me my passport so I was forced to step down from the tournament. I wish there were special legal procedures for instances like this where women can defend their rights.”
Ardalan added, “This tournament is very important to me. As a Muslim woman, I planned to raise the Iranian flag during matches but I’ve now lost this opportunity. This was is no way going to be a holiday.”
Altogether 14 Iranian women were asked to play in the Asian tournament, which is due to start on September 18, 2015 in Malaysia.
The debate over women’s role in sports in Iran, especially female sports fans in stadiums, is long running, contentious and divisive. Dating back to the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it is an issue that re-ignites every time that Iran hosts an international sporting event.
Women have been unable to attend football matches since the revolution and were banned from watching live volleyball matches by the Iranian government in 2012 to “protect them from male fans.”
Last summer, Islamic authorities arrested Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman and former law student at London’s School of Oriental and African studies, after she attempted to watch the Iran-Italy volleyball game in Tehran. The incident caused international outrage, eventually leading to her release several months later.
Then, in November 2014 the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) barred Iran from hosting future FIVB-run international events, including the World Championships, until it allowed women to attend volleyball matches, a decision that was welcomed by human rights activists.
Despite this, hardliners continue to object to the possibility of Iranian women playing a bigger role in sports. Earlier this year in April, two imams were quick to voice their concerns.
“The idea of letting women go to sport stadiums to watch matches has many immoral and negative social consequences,” said cleric Hassan Mosleh during a sermon in Borazjan, Bushehr province, on April 17, 2015.
Another Friday imam echoed Mosleh’s comments. “Those who support this idea have unfortunately lost the right and straight path,” said Ali Rahdoust, Friday imam in Delvar, in the southern part of Bushehr province. “They imagine that the dignity and virtuosity of our girls and women is about going to sport stadiums, while the majority of our women are chaste and noble and are repulsed by such conduct.”
Mosleh added, “Men and women sitting next to each other to watch matches will destroy religious and revolutionary values.”