Security personnel at the Olympics threatened to eject an Iranian volleyball fan for holding a large sign protesting the fact that women are banned from attending matches in Iran.
Darya Safai, an activist whose sign read “Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums,” told The Associated Press that she was sitting in the front row when officials told her to either put the banner away or she would be asked to leave Saturday’s match between Iran and Egypt in men’s volleyball.
The International Olympic Committee does not allow political statements at the Games.
USA Volleyball chairwoman Lori Okimura has been a vocal advocate on the issue, even bringing her own “Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums” T-shirt to Brazil this month.
“This is not a political statement. This is not a political issue,” Okimura said. “This, to me, is not about politics, it’s about gender. Volleyball has always been about equality. Why now are we not sending that same consistent message?”
Since the ban was put in place in 2012, women have been barred from volleyball matches in Iran and have even been arrested in attempts to enter stadiums. Iranian officials have claimed that mixed attendance at sports events is “un-Islamic,” threatens public order and exposes women to crude behavior, according to Human Rights Watch, an international organization that does research and advocacy for human rights.
The issue has gathered more attention in recent years as the Iranian men’s national team gained prominence, including its first Olympic qualification this year. In 2015, Iran hosted matches as part of the FIVB Volleyball World League. A female member of the U.S. men’s volleyball coaching staff did not travel to Iran for those matches.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the ban “ridiculous,” arguing that women in nations that are part of international bodies should have equal rights.
Iranian women unsuccessfully tried to buy tickets last month for another international tournament. The website stated that the female allotment had been filled from the very start of ticket sales, according to several of the women who said they tried to purchase tickets.
Iran swept Egypt in Saturday’s Olympic match in Pool B play and will continue preliminary play against Russia on Monday.
Safai said she is also not done with her activism at the 2016 Olympics quite yet.
“For the next game on Monday we also have tickets and we are going to do the same,” she wrote in a text message to The Associated Press.