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(Beirut) – Iranian media reports suggest that authorities will restrict or ban Iranian girls and women from attending men’s volleyball matches scheduled for June 19 and 21, 2015.

Iran is hosting the international matches against the United States in the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran as part of the International Volleyball Federation’s (FIVB) 2015 World League. Iranian authorities previously prohibited Iranian women from attending an international men’s volleyball match in June 2014, in contravention of the principle of gender non-discrimination in sports.

“We hope that the government will allow Iranian women to cheer for their national team alongside their male counterparts,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives. “By letting women attend the event, Iran would show international sporting bodies that the country can commit to fair play both on and off the field.”

On June 17, 2015, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency(ISNA) reported that a source inside Iran’s volleyball federation had confirmed that the “entry of all women to the Azadi Sports Complex during the World League matches has been prohibited.” The report indicated that the decision to ban women had been made despite earlier reports that the Iranian volleyball federation would issue special passes to a select number of women after it announced that it would not sell tickets to women at large.

The ISNA report also noted that the decision to allow women to attend had drawn public protests and “harsh reaction from certain groups” who oppose the presence of women at men’s sporting competitions, notwithstanding earlier announcements by government officials that they would deal harshly with any demonstrations in support of or against the presence of women at the matches. Human Rights Watch is aware of no protests in support of women attending the matches during the past few days or weeks.

The 2014 ban on women spectators led to the arrest of several men and women protesting the ban. The ban elicited sharp criticism by Human Rights Watch and others, who called on Iranian authorities to release Ghoncheh Ghavami, an Iranian-British dual national whom authorities arrested on June 30 after she and others protested the ban. The arrests also prompted the FIVB to affirm its commitment to “inclusivity and the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis.” Since then, Iranian officials have issued conflicting statements regarding whether they would lift such restrictions in part or whole.

Authorities released Ghavami from prison in November and effectively dropped the case against her, but subjected her to a two-year travel ban.

Human Rights Watch has called on organizers of international sporting events to include nondiscrimination clauses in their host city contracts, following the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in September to include that requirement. The IOC has since informed the finalists bidding for the 2022 Winter Games of this requirement.


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