TEHRAN, April 24: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Monday that Iranian women can finally go to stadiums to watch sporting events, putting an unexpected end to a quarter-century ban.

“It should be planned in a way that women are respected and are given the best places to watch national and important games,” the president was quoted as saying by state television.

In his order to the head of Iran’s Physical Education Organisation, the president argued that despite reservations, ‘experience has proven that when women and families are allowed into stadiums, ethics and chastity will prevail’.

Since Iran’s 1979 revolution ushered in segregation of the sexes and a strict dress code for women, only a tiny number of Iranian women have been allowed inside stadiums — despite a national passion for football.

Only the very few women able to secure official invitations to VIP sections of the stands have been able to watch live sporting events. Even female sports journalists have been given extremely limited access.

The Physical Education Organisation’s security chief, Mehdi Farahani, admitted the new directive would ‘take time to Implement’ — meaning women are unlikely to see a World Cup warm-up match against Bosnia in the northeastern city of Mashhad on May 31.

But he did add that ‘allowing women and families into stadiums will lighten the atmosphere’.

Last month, the head of the Iranian Football Federation, Mohammad Ali Dadkan, had said that the reason for the restriction was the cramped nature of sporting events.

Prominent women’s rights activists immediately offered rare praise for Mr Ahmadinejad, who has otherwise sought to reverse the reforms of the previous government.—AFP

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