An Iranian citizen journalist, who writes under a pseudonym to protect his identity, wrote the following article on the ground inside Iran.
Two young women were arrested as they tried to enter Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch football on Thursday, September 27.
Media outlets published photographs of the two young women being led to police cars in handcuffs. They were wearing men’s clothes and had attempted to make their faces look more masculine.
At the same time, 20 other Iranian women not wearing disguises were barred from entering the stadium. They remained outsides the gates of Azadi — a familiar sight over the last 40 years.
News also emerged that Azadi Stadium is currently equipped with 500 closed-circuit television cameras to spot women who try to sneak into the stadium disguised as men. Although Iranians are used to women being banned from stadiums, many of them will be surprised that such a large number of cameras are being used to catch them out.
Azadi Stadium seats 100,000 spectators and has two gates, one on its east side and one on its west. Ordinary spectators do not usually enter from the west side because VIP, VVIP, and reporters’ seats, plus the convention hall, are located there and it means further distances for them to walk to get to their seats. The seats on the east side are opposite the area where television news cameras are situated.
Since Azadi Stadium was built, there have always been a few CCTV cameras in place — less than 20 — around the field and positioned on raised poles. Outside the stadium, however, there used to be very few cameras. But now news agencies report that 500 cameras have been installed to identify both “troublemakers” in the stands and women who try to enter the stadium disguised as men.
In general, Iranian sports stadiums have been equipped with CCTV cameras for years. And in March 2016, Colonel Saeed Motahari Zadeh, commander of Tehran’s Special Police Unit, argued that it was necessary to equip Azadi Stadium with electronic gates. In May 2018, Habibollah Jannesari, deputy commander of the same unit, emphasized that the Ministry of Sports and Youth should provide Azadi Stadium with gates and “spaces” where body searches could take place. Jannesari said that it was not the police’s duty to provide Azadi Stadium with necessary hardware but, at the same time, it could not held be accountable for the consequences of the presence of a huge number of spectators because of the limited nature of the “security provisions” at the stadium.
Since 2015 the Mounted Police Unit has been used to better secure sports stadiums. The unit was formed in spring 2013 to confront riots and protests. In fact, Azadi Stadium has been turned into a base to mobilize the Mounted Police, despite the fact that its responsibilities had been described as handling unrests in the streets, not inside a sports stadium.
The “Threat” of Women
But when photographs of women disguised as men in stadiums started appearing on social media, the police decided the mounted unit had another role in addition to ensuring safety and security. On January 12, 2018, the police announced that it would increase its presence at Azadi Stadium by 30 percent and instate its reinforced Special Unit, presumably to take care of the emerging “threat” of women sneaking into the stadium.
The sports ministry announced its support for the increased policing. “The presence of girls in the stadium in male disguise is an insult to women,” said Abdolhamid Ahmadi, Deputy Sports Minister in Cultural Affairs. “It tarnishes the images of sports...these ladies even create problems for the spectators.” Of course, Ahmadi did not specify what “problems” male spectators would be confronted with if women entered the stadiums.
Mohsen is a member of the Police Special Unit. He has been assigned to Azadi Stadium numerous times and has been posted to carry out inspections both inside and outside the stadium. IranWire asked him about the new cameras, which he confirmed were in place. “We do not know exactly how many new cameras have been installed, but we do know that the monitoring center has been vastly expanded,” he said.
Although Mohsen works for the police, he has no problem with women being present in the stadium. “It happened to me once,” he said. “While I was doing a body search of a spectator at the gate, I noticed that she was a woman. I removed my hands and told her: ‘get in fast!’ Many of our guys do the same, but I have colleagues who think they have captured an enemy soldier when they find out that the fellow is a girl.”
Now, however, the situation has changed. “It is as if they are monitoring us during the inspections,” said Mohsen. “We are in trouble if they suspect that we have intentionally allowed a women to slip through.” The official line they have been given is that the increased number of cameras have been installed to shore up security.
On September 27, the day when the women dressed as men were arrested, authorities also refused entry to Arezoo Jafarpour, a veteran sports announcer for Radio Javan. Since July of this year, she and her brother have been reporting Upper League football games live from Azadi Stadium. But now that a reporter who has worked at the venue many times has been denied entry, it signals that the situation for women is set to get worse, and that the gates of Azadi Stadium are getting narrower and narrower for women.
Pedram Ghaemi, citizen journalist
More on the ban of Iranian women from stadiums:
Women Enter Stadium as Fans Refuse to Go Home, June 20, 2018
The Poet, the Woman and the Football Fan, December 31, 2017
Is Khamenei Afraid to Contradict Grand Ayatollahs?, December 13, 2017
Ayatollah Gives Thumbs Down to Women in Stadiums, December 12, 2017
Iranian Women Banned from “Freedom” Stadium — Again, September 6, 2017
"I Was There!": Defying the Ban on Women in Stadiums, February 17, 2017
The Girl Who Sneaked into Azadi Stadium, May 16, 2016
Women in Stadiums: The Ban Continues — Except for a Select Few, February 18, 2018