Iran's Sports Ministry ordered female Iranian sports journalists to report on the Volleyball World League's Iran-Russia match at Azadi Stadium, Tehran, on Friday, July 3, despite the country's ban on women attending live sporting events.
It is thought that this may be in connection to Fabio Azevedo's, the Director of International Events at the FIVB [International Volleyball Federation], recent arrival in Iran.
“Fabio Azevedo travelled to Iran to supervise the equal distribution of tickets for the match between male and female spectators,” the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported. “During the past four Volleyball World League matches in Iran, women spectators and reporters were banned from attending. But because there is an FIVB supervisor here in Tehran, the Iranian Volleyball Federation has chosen to invite some female reporters to watch the Iran-Russia match up close.”
However it is the Iranian Sports Ministry, and not the Iranian Volleyball Federation, that has the authority to decide who attends matches.
Many of the female reporters who were asked to attend the match initially refused, either because they felt they were being used by the government or because they were told to wear colored head scarves, prefereably red, rather than chadors.
Upon refusing the "request," the Sports Ministry rang up the female reporters' various editors and said they would lose their press passes for the following year if they did not attend the match.
Iran was barred by the FIVB in November 2014 from hosting future International Volleyball Federation (FIVB)-run international events, including the World Championships, until it allows women to attend volleyball matches.
Women were banned from watching live volleyball matches by the Iranian government in 2012 to “protect them from male fans” and have been unable to attend football matches since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
“We will not give Iran the right to host any future events until the ban is lifted,” a spokesman for FIVB told Association French Press (AFP). “Although this doesn’t include other volleyball tournaments or next year’s World League tournament because the fixtures are already confirmed.”
The spokesman said the decision was made after the federation had a meeting with a Human Rights Watch delegation in October, which asked the FIVB to take action following the arrest of Ghoncheh Ghavami.
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 on June 20. She was released several months later.
Ghavami was one of several Iranian women arrested outside the Azadi Stadium in Tehran when they attempted to watch the match. Although the police originally released her, she was re-arrested 10 days later and taken to Evin Prison when she went back to collect belongings the authorities had confiscated.
Ghavami spent nearly three months at Evin before the Islamic authorities gave an explanation for her arrest, denying that her attempt to watch the volleyball match had anything to do with it. Then in late September, she was charged with “propaganda against the regime”, an allegation used for countless prisoners of conscience and that carries a possible prison term of several years.
President of the FIVB, Ary Graca, called for her release at the World Congress – a summit with 210 national volleyball federations attending – in Cagliari, Italy in November 2014.
President Graca also sent President Rouhani a letter demanding her release and posted a statement on the FIVB website stating that “women throughout the world should be allowed to watch and participate in volleyball on an equal basis.”
The secretary general of the Iranian federation, Mahmoud Afshardoost, also told AFP the FIVB had been informed Iran it would not be organizing the under-19 championships in 2015 and that Argentina will do so instead.
"We received an email from the FIVB announcing a change of plan," Afshardoost said, adding that no explanation was given for the decision. “We’re waiting to find out the real reason [behind the change] and we’ll then decide what to do."
However, the FIVB said in a statement that it never told Iran it would host the under-19s Championships next year and therefore it was inaccurate to say the competition had been taken away from the country.
Volleyball is one of Iran’s most popular sports, with its team often doing well in international competitions. In the past year, the national team came sixth in the World Championships in Poland and fourth at the World League.