Female Iran VP scolds hardliners over volleyball ban

Female Iran VP scolds hardliners over volleyball ban

One of Iran's female vice presidents launched a furious attack today on "sanctimonious" groups whose threats of violent confrontation at a volleyball match ultimately prompted a clampdown on women spectators.

The remarks from Shahindokht Molaverdi, whose brief covers women and family affairs, could inflame a weeks-long row between the government and conservative opponents of its plans to ease restrictions at sporting events.

Volleyball is highly popular in Iran and Molaverdi last week said a limited number of women would, in contravention of a ban, be allowed to watch two eagerly anticipated matches against the United States in Tehran.

But security officials later contradicted her. Streets surrounding the Azadi Sports Complex were heavily policed before and during last night's first match, with officers forbidding women from going anywhere near the venue.

And although 200 special tickets for women were printed, an Iranian volleyball official told AFP the accreditations had not been authorised by security officials at the arena, and were thus invalid.

A few women pictured on social media watching the match were not Iranian, the Fars news agency reported today, but members of the Russian, Italian and Hungarian embassies in Tehran.

In the aftermath, Molaverdi, writing on Facebook, hit out at the ban, saying the government had respected the views of religious leaders while trying to respond to "the legal demands of another section of society".

She criticised groups who said they would spill blood if women were allowed into the stadium, suggesting such opposition came "from those who were denounced two years ago by voters, and who had crawled into their cave of oblivion for eight years".

The comments -- confirmed by Molaverdi's office as genuine -- suggested she was drawing a contrast between the plans of President Hassan Rouhani, regarded as a moderate, and the hardline two-term tenure of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before and after the match women took to Twitter and other social networks using the hashtag #LetWomenGoToStadium in protest, with the row casting a shadow over Iran's 3-0 victory.

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