Iran's female sports fans may finally get bleacher seats instead of jail time

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. There were a lot of happy Iranians last week thanks to the framework nuclear deal between Iran and the West. But there was some other news over the weekend that also made Iranian women especially happy. They’ll be allowed to watch some men’s sporting events, like basketball and volleyball, in stadiums. They couldn’t do that before. In fact, women were barred from attending any games in which men played. I have our own Shirin Jaafari to tell us more. So, stadiums specifically--they can now go to stadiums to see these sports. What was the situation before?


Shirin Jaafari: Right Marco. This is big news and it came on saturday. The deputy sports minister announced that women can now go and watch sports in which men play. Before obviously they couldn’t do that. If I, for example, was in Iran and there was a big game, I wanted to go watch that game, and there were men playing in that game, I could not do that. So, there’s a big change now. Women can go and watch some of these games.


Werman: How strictly was the ban implemented before?


Jaafari: It was actually pretty strictly implemented. You might remember that back in June there was a big volleyball and women wanted to go watch that game, and some of the activists gathered outside the stadium in Tehran, and I must say that this was a men’s volleyball game. They gathered outside and they asked, “You know, we want to go in, watch this game,” and some of them were arrested. One of the women who was arrested was a British-Iranian activist, and she spent five months in jail. She’s released now, but that’s how strictly this ban was implemented.


Werman: Yeah, so swimming and wrestling still off limits though for women.


Jaafari: Along with some other sports, like boxing is off limits too. There’s also soccer. There are a lot of soccer fans in Iran I have to say, women still can’t go watch that. So, some of these sports are still off limits.


Werman: What about the timing of this, Shirin? Is there a reason why the news has been made public now?


Jaafari: There could be, Marco. I mean, the Rouhani government might be trying to show that it’s actually implementing some of the promises that it made throughout the presidential campaign, one of them being (??) about the nuclear deal, and then now more social freedom. But then also there’s been a lot of pressure from outside, from the international volleyball and soccer federations. For example, Iran lost the chance to host the Asian soccer games in 2019 to the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, because of this. So now we’re seeing some these changes now being implemented, one reason could be the external pressure. But then also I spoke with one women’s rights activist, Leila Mouri, she’s based in New York. She, along with some other women’s rights activists, they’ve been pushing for this ban to be lifted for years now, and here’s what she told me.


Leila Mouri: Iranian women’s activists sent many letters during the last ten years to the international communities and asked them to put pressure, and asked them to ask the Iranian government to let Iranian women enter the stadium. So, I think definitely the Iranian women’s efforts had a very, very important role in this.


Jaafari: She was obviously very happy about this news, but then she also said “This is just the beginning. We want to see more and more of these changes happening, bigger changes coming soon.”


Werman: The World’s Shirin Jaafari. Thanks for telling me about this.


Jaafari: Thank you, Marco.