Opinion

Women defy Iranian regime to watch World Cup matches in public

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sports,Iran,Middle East,Hassan Rouhani,Brazil,World Cup,Soccer,Blake Seitz

Iranian women are defying the morality laws and secret police of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in order to cheer on their country's soccer team in the World Cup.

On Sunday, Iran lost to Argentina 1-0 after a stoppage-time goal by legendary Argentinian player Lionel Messi.

Women were present to witness the defeat at several cafes and restaurants in Tehran -- a victory in its own way, as the intermingling of men and women at sporting events is prohibited by the country's Islamist government.

While women's sports flourished under the modernizing rule of the Pahlavi monarchs from the 1920s through the 1970s, it was restricted in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Iranian women are barred from attending men's sporting events because the country's religious leadership believes mixed-sex outings lead to decadence and sexual immorality. The government allows female fans from other countries to enter male sporting events held in Iran.

As documented in the movie "Offside," women are pushing back against this repellent form of sex-segregation. Some female sports fans have disguised themselves as men to enter stadiums on the sly. More common are women's rights groups that picket sporting events to oppose sex segregation.

These protestors have won concessions from the government in the past, as when women were allowed to enter Azadi Stadium to watch a qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup.

The country's political leadership, including each of the last three presidents (current President Hassan Rouhani, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Khatami) have expressed openness to relaxing the law, but so far the country's religious leadership is unbending.

Cinemas in Iran were forced to scrap plans to screen this year's World Cup after mixed-sex public viewings were banned by Iranian authorities. The ban was later extended to other venues, although it has been flouted by several establishments, whose proprietors and customers face arrest if caught by the Basij, Iran's morality police.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, Iranian women -- some of them unveiled -- have attended World Cup matches to cheer on their team. These fans' conspicuous presence has not escaped the attention of the Iranian government, which earlier warned citizens to avoid behavior "not compatible" with its religious laws if they traveled abroad. The government sent a functionary to Brazil to monitor fan behavior, and it broadcasts World Cup matches on a two-second delay to censor video of females in the stands.

Given its extensive crowd-control efforts, the Iranian government does not do a very good job promoting its national sports teams. On Monday, three individuals were arrested for singing and dancing in a video expressing support for the Iranian soccer team. Police chief Col. Rahmatollah Taheri called the video "vulgar."

The Iranian loss to Argentina did not knock it out of contention, although it faces long odds to advance after its next game Tuesday at noon against Bosnia.

You can bet that Iranian women will be watching.

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