Iran: Iran lifts ban barring women from attending sporting events

The New York Times
Women can attend games in Iran's stadiums for the first time in nearly three decades, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unexpectedly lifted a ban last week on their presence in the stands.
Senior clerics and conservative members of Parliament criticized the decision and said that frequent hooliganism at sporting events made them inappropriate for women.
But Mr. Ahmadinejad said women would promote better behavior.

"Certain prejudices against women have nothing to do with Islam," he said Friday, several days after lifting the ban. The speech seemed to present him for the first time as a supporter of expanded rights for women. "Unfortunately, whenever there is talk of social corruption, fingers are pointed at women. Shouldn't men be blamed for the problems, too?"

Soccer matches are the most popular sporting events in Iran. Women had been demanding the right to attend games for more than a decade, but officials, including the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, denied their requests.

A strict dress code for women and segregation of the sexes has been enforced since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Mr. Ahmadinejad has specified that the best seats in stadiums be allocated to women and families to adhere to the segregation code. Women and men will still be seated in separate areas.

"I respect him for this move," said Siamak Namazi, a political analyst at Atieh Bahar Consulting. "It was a gutsy move because he can lose some of his conservative supporters who voted for him," he added.

Advocates of greater rights for women welcomed his decision, although they acknowledged that the move was also a way to increase his popularity among women at a time when he needs to bolster his support inside the country.

"Even if the pressure by clerics in Qum forces Mr. Ahmadinejad to back down, his decision will always be considered as a winning card for him," Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and a feminist, wrote Saturday in the daily reformist newspaper Shargh.

By Nazila Fathi
Published: May 1, 2006