- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TEHRAN | The first mixed soccer game - females vs. males - since the 1979 Islamic revolution led to swift punishment Monday, as an Iranian soccer club said it had suspended three officials involved and handed out fines of up to $5,000.

Iran’s strict Islamic rules ban any physical contact between unrelated men and women, and Iranian women are banned from attending soccer games when male teams play.

The officials - a coach and two managers - first denied the game took place, but video clips on cell phones of the game were used as evidence against them, the Vatan-e-Emrooz daily newspaper reported.

Esteghlal, one of Iran’s top two soccer clubs, said its disciplinary committee suspended two officials for a year, while a third was suspended for six months. A fourth official was fined, a report posted on the club’s Web site said.

The Jan. 20 game between the club’s female team and its youth male team in Tehran was the first time in the 30 years of Iran’s Islamic establishment that males and females played soccer together, observers said.

The youth team beat the women 7-0 in a game Vatan-e-Emrooz described as “historic.”

The report said the game was held at Marqoobkar stadium in south Tehran.

Mixed games for soccer, called football in Iran, were virtually unheard of, even before the Islamic revolution.

Kamran Khatibi, a soccer writer at Kayhan sports daily, said he doesn’t remember a “football game ever having been played between women and men in Iran - not even during Shah Reza Pahlavi’s era.”

Women can be passionate fans of soccer. One well-reviewed Iranian film, “Offside,” follows the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend a soccer game at a stadium in Tehran.

In 2006, the same year the film was released, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised his conservative backers by deciding that women could attend soccer games, saying their presence would “improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere.”

But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disagreed. He has final say on all matters in Iran, so his stance held - no women in the stands, not even in the segregated section, when men play.

And only women can attend games when women’s teams play. However, foreign women are occasionally allowed at men’s matches, purportedly because they don’t understand the language and the cursing.

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