Pegah Ahangarani and the significance of football

A short article in today’s Daily Telegraph raises speculation about the whereabouts of the Iranian documentary maker, blogger and activist for women’s rights, Pegah Ahangarani, who is widely reported to have been arrested on her way to the airport. Her crime? The strong suspicion by those on the ground is that she was detained because she was due to fly to Germany to comment for the German media on the women’s football World Cup; women in Iran are forbidden from entering stadia to watch football matches, and the Iranian government have form in respect of preventing women from engaging with the ‘beautiful game’ – only last month, the Iranian photojournalist Maryam Majd, who had campaigned for women to be able to watch live football, was also arrested on her way to the World Cup.

Trivial subject matter about which to protest? Clearly not, as it has resulted in a number of women being deprived of their liberty. Astonishing? Most certainly. Football has the capacity to cross boundaries of race, religion, class and gender, drawing together human beings across the globe in the thrills and tensions created by the skill of 22 men or women working as teams, with flashes of individual brilliance. It can be a force for good, and disputes over access to matches could rapidly turn it into a symbol for equality.

The ‘One Million Signatures’ campaign is a campaign by women in Iran which aims to have such discriminatory laws repealed. Its proponents argue, sensibly, that there is no place for such discrimination in our world. Take a look at their website if you need to be reminded about the discrimination experienced by women in Iran, despite the great cultural potential of that ancient country. A girl of 9 is considered under the Iranian penal code to be an adult and is punishable as such (even to the extent of being subject to the death sentence); a girl of 13 or younger can legally be married off by her father, even if her mother objects; women, unlike men, are not recognised as appropriate witnesses under the law.

What can we do about it? We must first not let ourselves be held back by fears that we might be interfering inappropriately in the mores of another culture: discrimination is discrimination, and women in Iran are asking for our support. Second, let us use the power of our networks to share the word about Pegah Ahangarani as swiftly as possible. She and others like her should be free to go to watch football.

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