The Iranian National Olympic Committee’s so-called Sports Ethics Commission has written to Mehdi Taj, the newly re-elected head of the Iranian Football Federation, asking that he impose tighter restrictions on women and girls coming to watch football matches at Azadi Stadium.
Recent weeks have seen renewed pressure on Iran to drop the decades-old discriminatory policy that bars female fans from entering stadiums in the run-up to the World Cup.
As a consequence, a few thousand female spectators – still dwarfed by the number of men – were allowed into Esteghlal and Persepolis Pro League matches at the venue in Tehran. Most were screened in advance and watched from a separate enclosure.
Apart from this the policy remained unchanged. Away from Azadi Stadium, women were turned away from seven separate Pro League matches in a single day last week in major cities like Ahvaz, Isfahan and Mashhad.
In the letter to Taj, dated Sunday, September 11, the Olympic Committee’s Sports Ethics Commission secretary Mojtaba Fashimi wrote: “The publication of some images of women’s presence at the Pro League [matches] show a violation of behavioral norms, contrary to moral values. There were a number of [female] spectators and this has caused concern for the ethical cohesion of the country.”
The Commission’s letter did not give further details on exactly what had given cause for concern, concern by whom, or on behalf of which section of Iranian society.
Elsewhere, though, Ghasemi did nod to the fact that Iran is openly violating FIFA’s charter by blocking women from taking their place on the stands.
He wrote: “While understanding the international obligations and the need to respond to society’s demands, it is expected that the necessary arrangements will be made for the correct management of the presence of spectators, and that the relevant managers will be held responsible for any violation of norms and counter-cultural behavior. Moral values should be upheld.”
The letter concluded by advising Taj to try to reconcile “cultural norms” with those of FIFA and then “make a decision”, again without going into specifics.
The international Olympic Charter declares political neutrality in sport to be a “fundamental ethical principle”. In Iran, the current head of the National Olympic Committee is Mahmoud Khosravi Wafa, a former personal bodyguard to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.