Women Were Banned From The Stands At This Major Sporting Event

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Update: Female spectators were reportedly prohibited from entering the stands at the Beach Volleyball World Tour in Iran last week, despite pledges that women would be allowed to watch the tournament. Richard Baker, a spokesman for the volleyball federation hosting the tour, told the Associated Press that “there were some misunderstandings with regard to security." Some women were allowed to watch from a cafe overlooking the court, he added.

This story was originally published on February 11, 2016.

Volleyball has amassed a huge fan base in Iran, thanks in part to the success of the country’s national team. But you won’t usually find any women on the sidelines — or in the stands.

The country’s ban on female spectators at matches is again in the spotlight, in advance of the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball's first stop in the Persian Gulf nation for its Beach Volleyball World Tour.

Various groups, including Human Rights Watch and the social media account Open Stadiums, ramped up the #Watch4Women campaign, calling for a change in policy ahead of the tournament's kickoff. The ban, an extension of a decades-long policy prohibiting women from attending soccer matches, has been in place for several years.

“Since 2012, the Iranian government has banned women and girls from volleyball tournaments — and has even arrested women for trying to enter stadiums,” Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch's director of global initiatives, said in a statement. “It is time for the International Volleyball Federation to act to end this blatant discrimination, which violates its own rules, and brings shame to the game.”

Some of the nation's top athletes have even weighed in, urging officials to reverse the ban so women — including their own wives, sisters, and mothers — can cheer them on, too.

For its part, the volleyball organization says it is doing everything it can to make sure the upcoming matches are open to spectators of all genders. The response they've received from the government suggests the advocacy might have paid off.

“The FIVB has been working tirelessly with the relevant authorities to ensure the Kish Island Open is accessible to all and the necessary steps have been taken to achieve this,” Richard Baker, the organization’s communications director, told Refinery29 in an email. “ The FIVB is committed to becoming the world’s number one family sport entertainment; our events are enjoyed by fans of all ages and gender and we are grateful for the support of the relevant Iranian authorities in helping us to achieve this at the Kish Island Open.”

Human Rights Watch praised the announcement, but cautioned that it could be too soon to declare victory — we'll have to wait until the tournament starts to know for sure whether women are actually allowed to watch.
Correction: An earlier version of this story called Masoud Shojaei a volleyball player, he is actually a soccer player.

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