Iran should be banned from hosting volleyball tournaments until women are allowed in the stadiums, Human Rights Watch has urged.
The group has written to the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) asking it to cease awarding Iran the right to host matches until restrictions on female spectators are lifted.
Tehran has banned women from attending matches in stadiums in many sports. A football match ban has existed since 1979, and in 2012 the government extended the ban to volleyball matches.
"The FIVB may want to build the sport of volleyball in Iran, but embracing gender discrimination and ugly double standards is no way to go about it," said director of global initiatives Minky Worden.
|Tehran has banned women from attending matches in stadiums in many sports. A football match ban has existed since 1979, and in 2012 the government extended the ban to volleyball matches|
The plea comes as Iran is bidding once again to host the FIVB's World League, the most important tournament in volleyball, as well as the federation's beach volleyball competition.
The FIVB is expected to announce 2017 hosts in the coming weeks.
However, in July 2015, when Tehran hosted the World League, women were obstructed from attending, in apparent violation of what the FIVB calls its "fundamental principle" of non-discrimination, HRW said.
Similar restrictions were seen in June 2015, when Iranian women were allowed only 200 of 12,000 seats on the first day of the tournament.
"Iranian volleyball authorities broke their promises to make tickets freely available to women during the World League matches in July and suffered no consequence," Worden said.
"Awarding Iran yet another World League tournament would only embolden the authorities in their discriminatory policies that sideline women."
|Awarding Iran yet another World League tournament would only embolden the authorities in their discriminatory policies that sideline women|
Before tickets to the tournament went on sale, the FIVB's Persian-language website claimed that capacity "had already been reached" for seats reserved for women at Azadi – "Freedom" – Stadium in Tehran, and that "spectators who purchased tickets of [the] opposite gender will not be allowed into the stadium".
Photos from the event showed most of the seats reserved for women were empty or occupied by female officials and athletes or wives of Iranian officials.
HRW has asked for a formal investigation into the restrictions.
"Despite its pledge to end discrimination in the stadiums, the Iranian volleyball federation appears to have constructed a system that denies most women any opportunity to attend matches," Worden said.
"The FIVB should make clear that Iran will not be able to host international volleyball competitions until the Iranian federation makes good on its promises."
In August, an activist protested at the Rio Olympics where Iran's men's volleyball team competed in the games for the first time.
Darya Safai, who held up a banner stating: "Let Iranian women enter their stadiums", told The New Arab Iran's restrictions were part of the regime's "systematic discrimination of women" and the belief that they should "be marginalised".
"The FIBV should put pressure on Iran," she said. "They should find a way so that women can enter the stadiums and watch a game.
"I have written to the FIBV several times saying they should respect their own charter, that any kind of discrimination is forbidden.
"They said they are respecting the cultural paradigm of a country. That's really not right. The Iranian women, until 2012, could attend the volleyball games. The culture of Iran has nothing to do with restrictions on women in stadiums.
"It's not a political message, it's about human rights."