Iran bars women from attending soccer matches

May 8, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's women will be barred from attending soccer games, a reversal by the president that comes a month before the national team plays in the World Cup.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ruled in April that he would allow women to go to soccer games and sit in a separate section of the stands. He wanted to "improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere."

But Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who under the Islamic Republic's constitution has the final say -- opposed the move.

"The president has decided to revise his decision based on the supreme leader's opinion," Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham said Monday.

Ahmadinejad's decision to allow women into stadiums had provoked outrage among hardline Shiite Muslim clerics, who supported his election last year and who have tightly controlled Iranian society since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran's Islamic law imposes stringent restrictions on women. They need a male guardian's permission to work or travel, and have rarely been allowed to attend public sports events.

In 2001, a group of Irish women was permitted to attend a World Cup qualifier between Iran and Ireland in Tehran.

The monthlong World Cup begins June 9 in Germany. Iran is grouped with Mexico, Angola and Portugal in the 32-team tournament.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press