By Arthur MacMillan, AFP
TEHRAN — One of Iran’s female vice presidents launched a furious attack Saturday on ��sanctimonious�� groups whose threats of violent confrontation at a volleyball match ultimately triggered a clampdown on women spectators. The remarks from Shahindokht Molaverdi, who had to backtrack on plans to ease restrictions on women at male sporting events, could inflame the government’s row with religious hard-liners who oppose such reform.
Volleyball has become hugely popular in Iran as the national team has risen up the sport’s rankings and women were allowed to watch it until a ban was imposed in recent years. The issue of female attendance peaked Friday, before the first of two matches in Tehran against the United States in the sport’s World League. The debate continued afterwards, somewhat clouding the home team’s easy 3-0 victory over its longtime political foe, but with whom a nuclear deal due by the end of this month could begin to repair relations. Molaverdi, responsible for women and family affairs in the Islamic republic, last week said some female supporters would be allowed to watch the match. But security officials later contradicted her and said no attendance policies had been changed. Following two small protests in the past week arguing against female admission, women’s rights activists used social media to voice frustration, posting on Twitter under the hashtag #letwomengotostadium. Streets surrounding the Azadi Sports Complex were heavily policed on Friday, with officers forbidding women from going nearer the venue. And although 200 special tickets for women were printed, an Iranian volleyball official told AFP the accreditations were not authenticated by security forces at the arena, and were thus invalid. A few women pictured on social media watching the match were not Iranian, the Fars news agency reported Saturday, but from the Russian, Italian and Hungarian embassies in Tehran. In the aftermath, Molaverdi hit out at the curbs, writing on Facebook that the government had respected the views of religious leaders while trying to respond to ��the legal demands of another section of society.�� Opponents Spread ‘seed of despair’ She then cited unnamed groups, accusing them of ��sparing no effort to spread the seed of despair.�� Such opposition came ��from those who were denounced two years ago by voters, and who had crawled into their cave of oblivion for eight years.��