Iranian Women Are Defying Laws Banning Them From Watching The World Cup In Public

Makes you think twice about moaning about the football always being on right?


by Sophie Cullinane |
Published on

For many years, women in Iran who wanted to watch the World Cup in a public space with their male friends, relatives or partners were left facing something of an uphill struggle. Since the 1979 revolution and subsequent Islamic Republic, women have been banned from attending football matches. The law has been so strictly enforced that, as recent film Offside showed, a few die-hard football fans were forced to flout the ban by dressing as boys to gain entrance.

This year, however, it looks like things might have been a bit different. There were reports in the run-up to the World Cup that cinema owners were hoping to arrange special screenings of Iran's games to enable women to support their country's team – albeit as long as they were accompanied by men.

But this week those attempts were shut down by General Ahmadi Moghadam, commander of Iran’s security forces, who announced that football matches would not be shown in cinemas to mixed audiences and would only be tolerated if men and women watched games in separate halls. As a result of what would have been a logistical nightmare, cinema owners quickly adandoned their efforts.

Then Iranian authorities announced that football matches could not be shown in restaurants and coffee shops, either. As the president of the Coffee Shop Owners Union put it to the ISNA news agency: ‘We have told our members that during the World Cup games they must either turn the TV off or switch to a channel which is not broadcasting the games.’ All of which means that the chances of any women being able to watch their country – who are currently third in Group F – outside of the comfort of their own homes are pretty bleak.

However, it looks like some brave women are determined to ignore the ban, as a mixed group of men and women were filmed by CNN at the weekend enjoying a football match in a café in Tehran. ‘It's 100% it's better this way,’ a young woman called Negar Valayi explained to CNN. ‘It doesn't happen often. It would be great if we have more of this. It's actually much better to watch it with a bunch of people around because it makes you feel more excited,’ said Roya Marzbahan.

There is no news yet if any of the women or café owners faced reprisals for watching the game in public – or if any other cafés will offer women the chance to watch more games in future – but considering how difficult it’s been in Iran for many years this has got to be viewed as a bit of a triumph, hasn’t it?

And it's also made us think twice about those trivial moans about how much football is on TV at the moment. Just think about what some women are having to go through just to support their own country. Puts the ‘hardship’ of having to stay awake (and sober) for an 11pm start into perspective, doesn’t it?

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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