Should women be allowed to watch sporting events? That’s the question Iranian officials will de discussing after FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) President Sepp Blatter, during a two-day visit to the Iranian capital of Tehran earlier this month, asked them to end the country’s 34-year-old ban forbidding women to enter sports stadiums: “As the president of FIFA and defender of football in Islamic countries, I had to present this plea to the political authorities.”
The ban went into effect after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that brought about the Islamic Republic under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The primary stated purpose of the ban is to protect women from rowdy male fans’ violence and vulgar language. Iran allows women to play soccer if they follow a strict dress code, with female athletes allowed to remove their hijab only in arenas that are all-female.
The most notable strike against the ban came on Nov. 29, 1997, following an Iranian victory over Australia during a FIFA World Cup qualification game. While millions of Iranian citizens took to the streets to celebrate, several thousand women crossed police lines and entered Azadi Stadium. It was the first of several such incidents that included women dressing as men in order to enter the stadium and watch matches.
In April 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced women would be allowed to attend soccer matches in stadiums, but they would be segregated to a specific area. “The presence of women and families in public places promotes chastity,” he said. The repeal did not last for long. Several religious clerics and top lawmakers criticized Ahmadinejad’s decision, and the president reversed his position. Religious leaders said woman violated Islamic law if they looked at a male stranger’s body.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabian officials announced that their nation would allow the formation of female sports clubs for the first time ever. Despite clerics’ warnings against female exercise, Saudi Arabia sent its first female athlete, Wojdan Shaherkani, to the Olympic Games in 2012. Authorities still forbid women to drive or make any important decisions—such as marriage, finances, or traveling—without a male guardian’s permission.
Qatar, which allowed female athletes to attend the Olympics for the first time in 2012, has assured FIFA that women are welcome at its stadiums when it hosts the 2022 World Cup.
Corbett (Ore.) Middle School football coach Randy Burbach lost his unpaid position after holding an end-of-season team celebration at Hooters and refusing to change venues when asked to reconsider. Burbach told USA Today he simply wanted to give the 12- to 14-year-old boys “the best experience.”
“I believe this is a fine venue,” Burbach said, referring to the restaurant known for its scantily clad waitresses: “It’s not a strip club. If you have a dirty mind, you’ll find dirt.” District athletic director J.P. Soulagnet criticized the coach’s decision and stubbornness in a letter sent to parents and posted on a school website. Burbach argued that he was keeping a promise made to his players.
Enjoying the free publicity generated by the debate, Hooters paid for the party’s expenses and donated over $1,000 to the Corbett Youth Football program. —Z.A.