FIVB blames ‘misunderstandings’ as female fans denied entry to World Tour event in Iran

The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has said that ‘misunderstandings’ with security at its Beach Volleyball World Tour event in Iran were to blame for female spectators being denied entry to the ongoing competition.

The five-day Kish Island Open men’s event, which is taking place at the Kish Island resort in the Persian Gulf from February 15-19, is the first time that the World Tour has visited the country.

Upon awarding the Iranian Volleyball Federation hosting rights to the World Tour event, the FIVB, the sport’s global governing body, gave the condition that women must be allowed to attend. Female fans are traditionally banned from attending male-only sports in the country.

FIVB spokesman Richard Baker told the Associated Press news agency that there had been “some misunderstandings with regards to security” during the second day of the event on Tuesday. Baker added that women would be able to watch matches from a cafe overlooking the tournament’s main court.

“There have been misunderstandings throughout the day, and we have had to seek clarification," Baker said. He added that the FIVB is working with the Iranian national federation, which has the “best intentions but there are cultural issues”.

In response, Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch, said the decision to ban female fans from attending was “far more serious than a ‘slight misunderstanding’”.

Worden said: “Brave Iranian women who took the FIVB at its word were turned away at the turnstiles this week. That is a black eye for the sport of volleyball, and a setback for women's rights in Iran. This sorry episode highlights the shortcomings of the FIVB's strategy with the Iranian government, and contradicts their claims that all Iranian fans are welcome.”

In 2012, the Iranian Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs extended an existing ban on women attending games in football stadiums to cover men's volleyball matches.

The ban came to the attention of global authorities in 2014 after Iranian-British woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, attempted to gain entrance to a men’s volleyball match between the Iran and Italy national teams. After being detained and released by authorities in the country, she was then arrested again and sentenced to a year in prison for "propagating against the ruling system”.

Ghavami was then freed on bail, pending an appeal.