Iranians revel in sporting pride after years of isolation
Tehran, June 24, 2014
By Michelle Moghtader
Strong performances from Iran's volleyball and soccer teams have helped restore national pride following decades of isolation but the joy was tempered by a decision to bar women from attending one event in Tehran.
"We showed the world that despite all the pressures, Iran's national team has something to say," Ali Malihi, a 30-year-old journalist from Tehran said in the wake of Iran's heart-breaking 1-0 World Cup defeat to a highly fancied Argentina side.
"It wasn't anything less than a victory. In twenty years, we will tell our children and our grandchildren that with hope, we stood our ground during the entire historic game."
Despite a lack of funds, players with little international exposure and higher-ranked Group F opponents in Brazil, Iran ground out a 0-0 draw with Nigeria in their World Cup opener before losing to a last-minute Lionel Messi strike on Saturday.
Apprehension turned to joy for supporters as it appeared Iran were about to clinch a draw against one of the world's leading sides as the clock ticked towards the final whistle but Messi intervened with a brilliant goal to break Iranian hearts.
"I thought it was going to be 3-0 to Argentina," said Hossein Asrarhaghihi, an Iranian businessman in Dubai said on Sunday.
The referee's refusal to award a penalty after winger Ashkan Dejagah was sent tumbling in the penalty box had also led to an official Iranian complaint to FIFA, the country's football chief said on Monday, according to IRNA.
Despite the loss and the perceived injustice, Iranians poured onto the streets, cheering and honking their car horns. They also chanted "Death to the Ref!" in a twist on the popular "Death to America" slogan.
"Tonight, our kids in Brazil caused an uproar, we are able to hold our heads high thanks to them," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on his Facebook shortly after the match.
"Well played to our Persian Cheetahs! It might not be the result you deserved but great effort & heads held high!" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also chimed in on Twitter.
Iran may still advance if they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina defeat Nigeria in the final round of group fixtures on Wednesday.
The Iranian men's win over Italy in a Volleyball World League tie on Friday was seen as a bittersweet victory for half of the population as police banned female fans from attending matches at the Tehran venue.
The rule has riled citizens waiting for promised reforms by Rouhani, considered a relative moderate.
"There's nothing in the law that says we are not allowed to attend the matches," said Jila Baniyaghoob, an activist and author, who along with a group of women tried to enter the stadium.
"They didn't cite a reason but I think it's because they didn't want to upset the hardliners," she said.
"But the worse part was that they allowed non-Iranian females into the stadium, saying it was because they had foreign passports. I mean, don't our passports have any value?"
The police moved quickly to state why women were not allowed to attend.
"In the current climate, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in our interest," Police Chief Brigadier-General Esma'il Ahmadi-Moqaddam said, according to Fars reports on Sunday.
Iran has already played against Brazil and Italy in Tehran, and is slated to hold two more games in the Azadi Stadium against Poland on June 27 and 29.
The International Volleyball Federation has said that it would review the banning of women in stadiums, according to Baniyaghoob.
"We will continue to ask Rouhani to strive to keep his promise to defend women's rights," she added.-Reuters