Offside and Out-of-sight: Women and Sports Spectatorship in Iran

By Nazanin Shahrokni
Submitted to Session P3350 (Negotiating Power in Contested Spaces: Citizens, States, and Sites of Transgression, 2013 Annual Meeting
Current Events; Gender/Women's Studies; Iranian Studies; Nationalism; Transnationalism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Immediately after being established in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to reconfigure city spaces to reflect an Islamic public order. Gender segregation was one of the spatial strategies adopted by the state in order to Islamize the city along the gender lines. Sports stadiums were among the first spaces that became gender segregated. Not only were men and women assigned to different sport spaces, but also women were banned from attending men’s (national) sports matches as spectators. Over the past three decades, however, this ban has been challenged on multiple occasions. This paper focuses on one particular site: Azadi Sports Stadium, the national sports complex located in Tehran. This paper offers a historical narrative about the ban and examines the different historical moments in which the ban on women became a “national” problem offering a space for contestation between the Iranian state and multiple parties both at the domestic level (i.e women, clerics) and at the international level (i.e FIFA, AFC). The chronicle demonstrates how, during the past three decades, the stadium has been mobilized as a site for both celebrating and challenging the nation as an all-encompassing entity. The paper offers an account of the different kinds of strategies adopted by various groups to either transgress or reinforce the spatial boundaries drawn by the state. It highlights how each group mobilized the terms of gender, “national” politics and religion to promote or oppose women’s right of entry to sports stadiums.