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Iran to Protest Disqualification of Women Soccer Players for Wearing Hejab

by DAN GEIST

06 Jun 2011 19:00Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

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Members of the Iranian women's soccer team after their disqualification. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at his predecessor's mausoleum.

7 p.m., 16 Khordad/June 6 Iran plans to file an official complaint with FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, over the barring of the Iranian women's soccer team from an Olympic qualifying match on Friday. Here is how the semiofficial Iran Sports Press website is currently presenting the story, crediting its report -- titled "Disgraced FIFA Official Stops Iran's Olympic Qualifier" -- to Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of the state broadcasting network:

Iran's women['s] football team was prevented from taking the pitch against Jordan on Friday in the second qualifying round [for the] 2012 London Olympics, due to "inappropriate" clothing, despite having played the first round with the same clothing. The decision which was made by the Bahraini official of the match left the Iranian players in tears.

Despite the decision, the Iranian women took to the pitch in the Jordanian capital city, Amman, sang the national anthem, and then kissed the Iranian flag before walking off the pitch. The Jordanian team were awarded 3-0 winners.

Iranian officials have vowed to contest the decision and are to file a complaint against the Bahraini official, who banned the country's women football team from playing the Olympics qualifier match, over their hijab.

"We have already held talks with the president of the International Federation of Association Football [FIFA] about the participation of Iranian women in matches with full Islamic hijab," said head of the Iranian Football Federation (IFF) Ali Kaffashian. "Unfortunately, however, I do not know why the official in charge of the match refused to let our team play," ISNA quoted the IFF chief as saying on Saturday. "Therefore, we will file a complaint to FIFA against the official in charge of the games," the official added.

The first known incident of a female soccer player being barred for wearing hejab occurred in 2007, when 11-year-old Asmahan Mansour of Ottawa was prevented from playing in a match in Quebec. The Quebec Soccer Association announced that it had banned hejab because of the danger of accidental strangulation from headscarves. When the matter was brought to FIFA, the body refused to step in. "In particular," according to a CBC News report, "FIFA said it would not alter the law dealing with items that a player is entitled to wear. Head scarves are not mentioned in that law."

In fact, "the law dealing with items that a player is entitled to wear" was altered. On March 3, 2007, just six days after Mansour was barred from playing in Quebec, the International Football Association Board, responsible for the official Laws of the Game administered by FIFA, concluded its annual general meeting. Among the various adjustments to the rules announced by the board, it added a provision to Law 4 -- The Players' Equipment, according to which players' "basic compulsory equipment must not contain any political, religious or personal statements."

Nonetheless, full hejab head covering was not explicitly banned by FIFA until April 2010, when the body declared that the Iranian girls' soccer team would not be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics that August in Singapore if the IFF required the players to wear headscarves. It remains unclear if that decision was based on the "no religious statements" provision, on Law 4's safety provision -- "All items of clothing or equipment other than the basic must be inspected by the referee and determined not to be dangerous," on both, or on some other rationale. Farideh Shojaei, vice president of the IFF women's division, said at the time that "FIFA officials have mistaken the religious hejab for national dress, claiming that if they were allowed to participate with Islamic hejab, other participants might also demand to appear in their respective traditional costumes." At any rate, a compromise was reached between FIFA and both the IFF and the Iran National Olympic Committee that allowed the under-15 team to compete in the Youth Olympics. Per FIFA's description of the pact, "the players can wear a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck."

As for the current situation, there has been no independent verification that the talks to which IFF President Kaffashian referred yielded any sort of agreement to allow hejab for the senior team. While the fact that the team apparently played in full hejab in the first qualifying round seems suggestive, that may reflect no more than the inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the relevant rules that was the norm before last year. Three days after the disqualification occurred, there is still no mention of it on the FIFA website, though according to a report today from the Associated Press,

FIFA says its match officials were right to stop Iran's women's team from playing a 2012 Olympic qualifier wearing Islamic head scarves.

Iranian officials were "informed thoroughly" before Friday's match against Jordan that the hijab scarf covering a women's neck is banned for safety reasons, FIFA says. [...]

Jordanian officials accepted the rule and "decided not to select a number of players," FIFA says.

Aside from the impact on the athletes who have been excluded from a shot at taking part in the Olympic Games, there is a political dimension to the incident. The Iranian press has focused on the fact that the official who disqualified the team is Bahraini. Tensions have run high in recent months between the Islamic Republic and Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, which violently suppressed the pro-democracy protests by its predominantly Shia citizenry. The Iranian government and media have spoken out particularly strongly against the intervention on the monarchy's behalf by armed forces dispatched from Saudi Arabia. The coverage of the affair in Al-Arabiya, generally regarded as following Saudi Arabia's official line, thus offers an instructive comparison to the Iranian perspective:

Iranian women soccer players rejected FIFA's customized headwear and insisted on donning the traditional hijab for a match against Jordan.

Their insistence on not following FIFA's dress code gave the team they were supposed to play against, Jordan, an easy win. [...]

Despite shunning religious symbols, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Last summer in a youth tournament in Singapore, the Iranian female players welcomed FIFA's accommodation by covering their head but not their ears or necks, a step that was in contrast with the latest incident.

***

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

In a speech Saturday at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the occasion of the 22d anniversary of his death, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a large crowd including high officials of the Islamic Republic. At one point, he said, "If a person does not want to overthrow the political system and carry out our enemies' order, but is opposed to our thinking, we must not deny him justice, take away his security, and humiliate him, because the Qur'an has said that opposition to a group must not cause injustice, and we must all watch this and be alert."

On Friday evening, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also spoke at Khomeini's mausoleum. His speech was interrupted several times by shouts of "Mashaei have some shame, leave Ahmadi[nejad] alone," and "Death to the enemy of the Velaayat-e Faghih." The references were, respectively, to Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, and to the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurisprudent, by which Khamenei rules as Supreme Leader. Others shouted, "Ahmadi, Ahmadi, we support you." His speech was broadcast on national television with a 15-minute delay. A speech given by Khomeini's oldest grandson, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, was broadcast by Radio Iran, but was interrupted three times.

In separate speeches, two hardline former supporters of Ahmadinejad directed strong comments against both the president and the "perverted group" -- code name for Mashaei and his inner circle. In a conference in Shiraz, Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of Kayhan, criticized the "Iranian school of thought" -- as opposed to the Islamic school -- that Mashaei has advocated. Shariatmadari said that the "perverted group" is not strong enough to challenge the political system, although it is supported by the current administration. Majles deputy Ruhollah Hosseinian, a former official in the Intelligence Ministry who was a close friend of Saeed Emami, leader of the gang responsible for the infamous Chain Murders, also spoke against Ahmadinejad and former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, accusing them of trying to arrange for their close aides to stay in power after they leave the office. He said, "Take a look at three presidents. One [Ahmadinejad] created the Office of Coordination [with Iranian Expatriates], another [Rafsanjani] created the Executives [of Reconstruction, a political group run by his close aides], and the third created the Islamic [Iran] Participation [Front, the leading outlawed reformist group]. But when the Supreme Leader was the president, he did nothing for himself."

In a speech on May 26 to a group of veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, Rafsanjani said that the political system must try to regain the trust of the people. On Sunday, hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami indirectly responded to him. According to Khatami, "Any political system that has the people['s support] will survive, but any system that loses the people will be gone. God willing, our Islamic system has the people. An element has tried to separate the people from this system, but has not succeeded. A gentleman said recently in an interview that it is still possible to regain people's trust. This statement has still not been recanted. It implies that people have lost their trust in the system, which is a lie."

Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi Fard, deputy Majles speaker for legal affairs, said that the parliament has sent a letter to Ahmadinejad concerning his violation of the law requiring the establishment of a Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. He said that the Majles has approved the legislation and the Guardian Council has confirmed it, but Ahmadinejad has still not nominated anyone to receive a parliamentary vote of confidence and serve as minister.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, a few days ago hardline cleric Abdolnabi Namazi made some revelations about the meeting between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in the aftermath of the forced resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi and his reinstatement by the Supreme Leader. Namazi also revealed that Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' top commander, had asked Khamenei to allow his forces to arrest Mashaei. After the revelations were publicized, Khamenei's office and the Guards' public relations office both issued denials. Namazi reacted angrily, calling the denials sinful. He said that he will complain personally to Khamenei.

Dr. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, senior adviser to Mir Hossein Mousavi, said that the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary leadership council while Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest, is organizing several demonstrations for June. The first will take place in Tehran on June 12, the second anniversary of the rigged 2009 presidential election. The demonstrations on that day are supposed to be held in complete silence. Amir Arjomand said that the demonstrations that follow will not be silent.

The Sunday Times of London reported that Israeli commandos may have conducted reconnaissance missions against Iran's nuclear sites based from ships that belonged to the company owned by the Ofer brothers. According to the report, the ships that docked in Iran may have carried Israel Air Force Blackhawk helicopters, which were used by the commando units, and that the helicopters were concealed in special containers for infiltration into Iran.

Four political prisoners detained in Rajaei Shahr Prison, west of Tehran, ended their hunger strike and issued a statement. The prisoners, Isa Saharkhiz, Rasoul Bodaghi, Keyvan Samimi, and Mehdi Mahmoudian, declared that they ended their action only because they had been asked to by many organizations and individuals, including former president Khatami.

Two nationalist-religious political prisoners, Hoda Saber and Amit Khosrow Dalir Sani, have gone on a limited hunger strike to protest the circumstances that led to the death of Haleh Sahabi. Praising her and her late father, Ezatollah Sahabi, the two said that they are taking the initiative on their own.

A report issued by the United Nations on Friday declared that disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation and against international law. The report criticized France and the United Kingdom, which have passed laws to remove accused copyright scofflaws from the Internet, and also condemned blocking Internet access to quell political unrest. According to the report,

While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, states have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report continued:

The Special Rapporteur [on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression] calls upon all states to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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