Football: AFC 'broad-minded' on Iranian women ban

An Iran fan takes a selfie photo before the Asian Cup quarter-final soccer match between Iran and Iraq at the Canberra stadium in Canberra on Jan 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An Iran fan takes a selfie photo before the Asian Cup quarter-final soccer match between Iran and Iraq at the Canberra stadium in Canberra on Jan 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Asia's football body does not oppose Iranian laws banning women from stadiums, a senior official told AFP on Friday, after thousands flocked to watch the team at the Asian Cup.

Enthusiastic male and female Iranian fans have provided a colourful spectacle at the tournament in Australia, in scenes which are forbidden in the Islamic republic.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Alex Soosay said the body respects Iranian rules banning women from watching male athletes, an increasing source of controversy.

"We're very broad-minded," he said in an interview in Sydney.

"In Australia there's a big Iranian community and you can't stop them from coming to the stadium because there's no restrictions here.

"Whereas in Iran, there has been some restrictions of women entering the stadium and watching a football match."

He added the AFC was "happy" to respect Iranian laws.

The divide between the situation in Iran and Australia was laid bare when Iranian players were warned against taking "selfie" pictures with women fans.

The head of the Iranian Football Federation's moral committee said players risked being used as a "political tool" after some photos circulated on social media.

"National team players should be aware that they won't be used as a political tool so that those who take pictures with them don't use these photos against the players," Ali Akbar Mohamedzade told Iran's Shahrvand newspaper.

The side's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz steered clear of the subject when he responded with a firm "no comment" when asked to comment on the presence of women fans.

Iran's restrictions on women fans have been in the spotlight since a British-Iranian law graduate was jailed after she tried to attend a men's volleyball match.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was detained in June and she twice went on hunger strike before being released on bail last week pending a court verdict.

The issue would be sure to reach prominence if Iran, one of only two bidders along with favourites United Arab Emirates, wins the right to host the next Asian Cup in 2019.

In Australia, thousands of female Iran fans, many wearing the team shirt and with their faces painted in the national colours, have attended Team Melli's games in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi and forward Karim Ansari Fard were both snapped with women fans. One female supporter held up an Iranian flag inscribed with a marriage proposal for Haghighi.

Soosay said visiting female officials and media attending AFC events in Iran had always been allowed at the stadiums, provided they wear a head-covering.

"You have to respect that they have to cover themselves. There is a code of attire which has to be respected. If it's done in Iran there's no issue at all," he said.

Three-time champions Iran, who last won the Asian Cup in 1976, are currently tied 1-1 with bitter rivals Iraq with 10 minutes of regulation time left in their quarter-final clash in Canberra.