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Iran women's football captain isn't at a major tournament - because her husband won't let her go

Under Iranian law a man has the right to prevent his wife from leaving the country.

Niloufar Ardalan (pictured on left in white) in action for her country in 2006 in a friendly in Tehran.
Niloufar Ardalan (pictured on left in white) in action for her country in 2006 in a friendly in Tehran.
Image: Associated Press

NILOUFAR ARDALAN IS one of the stars of Iranian women’s football, and captains the side to boot.

The national team are currently competing in the inaugural Asian Football Confederation Futsal Championship in Nilai, Malaysia, opening the tournament with a 6-0 defeat of Hong Kong on Monday and a 9-1 drubbing of Uzbekistan yesterday.

The captain is not there however because her husband – sports journalist Mahdi Toutounchi, refused to sign papers to allow his wife’s passport to be renewed.

Under Iranian law a man has the right to prevent his wife from leaving the country, and the player herself has been quick to express her disgust with the laws.

“These games were very important to me,” she told Nasimonline, according to news.com.au. “As a Muslim woman, I wanted to work for my country’s flag to be raised (at the games), rather than traveling for leisure and fun.”

She added: “I wish authorities would create [measures] that would allow female athletes to defend their rights in such situations.”

Breaking silence is a dangerous move for Ardulan in a country that is notoriously backward in its treatment of women:

  • Female Iranian athletes are all but barred from participation in the Olympic Games.
  •  Iranian women are allowed to compete in sports that require the removal of the hijab (a veil that covers the head and chest), but only in all-female arenas.
  • Women cannot wear Lycra as it is apparently too form-fitting and revealing. Female Iranian rowers have in the past been forced to wear their hijab secured by a hat, baggy tops and tracksuit bottoms.
  • The ‘football revolution’ in Iran in 1997 saw hundreds of Iranian women storm a stadium from which they were banned after the men’s team qualified for the 1998 World Cup. Since those events many restrictions on women in the country have been restored and tightened.

Gender equality activists hope Niloufar Ardulan’s case will highlight the severe problems surrounding female sporting participation in the extremely conservative state.

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Shane Hannon

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