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Iranian football stars call for end to female spectator ban

Ali Karimi [pictured] has called for the female spectator ban to end [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 July, 2017

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Iranian footballing legend Ali Karimi and current national team captain Masud Shojaei lend their weight to the movement to end the female spectator ban at football games.
Two of Iran's most prominent football players have come out in support of ending the country's ban on women at men's sports events, lending their influence to the battle for women's rights in the conservative state.

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Ali Karimi, who is regarded as one of Iran's greatest football players, said he hoped that President Hassan Rouhani would support changes "for women to enter stadiums" as spectators.

"This is the demand of millions upon millions of female fans who'd like to watch football matches and other events up close," Karimi, who now coaches Naft Tehran, was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying.

"This important issue is not impossible, this dream of female sports fans can be achieved through correct planning," he added.

Karimi's statement came weeks after footage was released of Iranian national team captain Masud Shojaei delivering a similar message.

"I think it is the dream of many Iranian women who are football fans," Shojaei said in the video that was shared on social media.

"I think if [the ban is lifted] we would have to build a stadium that could hold 200,000 spectators, because we see the flood of passion from our ladies."

The footballers' appeals were directed at President Rouhani, who is seen by many of his supporters as a reformer among Iran's conservative ruling elite.

The president has campaigned on platforms promising fewer social restrictions, however has often struggled against religious hardliners within Iran's political establishment.

Shojaei, who has represented Iran at two world cups, reportedly raised the issue of female match attendance at a meeting with Rouhani in June.

Iranian authorities say that the female spectator ban is enforced in order to protect religious norms and decency. It is alleged that the atmosphere at the stadiums and revealing nature of the athletes' sportswear make the matches unsuitable for female attendance. 

Rights activists, however, say the restrictions are simply another example state-sanctioned gender discrimination in Iran.

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