Despite losses in straight sets, nothing could diminish the significance for Sajadeh Norouzi of seeing the Iran men’s volleyball team make its Olympic debut at Maracanazinho arena in Rio de Janeiro. Back home in Iran, women are not permitted to attend all-male sports events and this was the 27-year-old’s first time in a stadium. Norouzi told The Associated Press she felt she was representing the other Iranian women who are fighting to be allowed to spectate from the stands, and not just watch sports on TV. “We want to go to the stadium because the government doesn’t allow us to. I want to cheer my team!” Norouzi said, sitting beside her husband Saeed Javdaniyan.
In 2012, a longstanding ban on women attending soccer matches in Iran was extended to volleyball — a restriction former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year called “ridiculous,” arguing that nations that are part of international bodies should extend equal rights to women.
Among those fighting the ban is a 32-year-old Iranian woman, who declined to be publicly identified for fear of reprisals. She works with a group called Open Stadiums, who agitate to seek access. “I really wish I could watch it in a stadium. It’s been very long time that I couldn’t watch their matches live,” she wrote to The Associated Press. Instead, she rose early on Sunday and watched the televised match with her mother and two sisters as they ate their breakfast.
The Open Stadiums activists of Iran have international supporters, too, including Human Rights Watch, and the chairwoman of USA Volleyball Lori Okimura, who brought her “Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums” T-shirt to Brazil.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.