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Iranian women have been told their safety may be at risk if they attend the upcoming Beach Volleyball World Tour in the Islamic republic, where females are banned from stadiums.
Despite the International Volleyball Association (FIVB) seeking an agreement with the Iranian government that women be allowed to attend the Kish Island Open between 15-19 February, human rights groups say women's safety will be compromised if they make it to the match.
The director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, Minky Worden, told IBTimes UK: "The FIVB is saying that women won't be turned away at the turnstiles, but it's not fair to the women who want to attend – they will be exposing their identity to the authorities in a country where it is illegal for women to be in the stadiums.
"The FIVB should have concentrated its efforts on getting the ban overturned. The fact you have a one-off match where women can attend, they have to show their faces... women are taking all the risk – that's not fair and that's not fun for them. They will be exposing themselves by sitting in the stands.
"FIVB has dropped the ball on this, they have had an opportunity since 2014 when we met with them and said their focus should be getting the regulation overturned.
"They are the high priests of volleyball, they have all of the power and they have rewarded Iran for discriminating against women."
Human Rights Watch has started a social media campaign to encourage change, using the hashtag #Watch4Women and creating videos to raise awareness of the dangers Iranian women face just attempting to watch a volleyball match.
In 2014, 20 women were arrested for watching a volleyball match at Azadi Stadium in Tehran, with one of the women – Ghoncheh Ghavami – later re-arrested and kept in solitary confinement for five months.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that women attending the Kish Island Open could see themselves targeted by authorities in future, Worden said.
Although women have been banned from football stadiums in Iran since 1979, they have only been banned from attending volleyball matches – which are big business in the Islamic republic – since 2012, when the Iranian volleyball team achieved serious international recognition.
Although no explicit reason was given for extending the ban from football to volleyball stadiums, many believe that images broadcast around the world of Iranian women cheering along to their favourite sport was felt by the authorities to be 'un-Islamic'.
However, the FIVB said it had attempted to fight the corner of women in the Islamic republic, and had only agreed to hold the leg of the Beach Volleyball World Tour on Kish Island on the condition that women be allowed to attend the match.
FIVB communications director Richard Baker told IBTimes UK: "The event was awarded to Iran on the premise that women would be allowed to attend.
"We have been in regular contact with the Iranian authorities, and they have told us women can attend [the Kish Island Open].
"For us this is a stepping stone to try to implement change. In previous years at the World League we were working with authorities to allow women access.
"Although the full access [for Iranian women] the FIVB sought was not provided, the FIVB understands and respects the situation at the match in Tehran and the need to prioritise the security of the public.
"At this match we have succeeded in allowing Iranian women to attend. This is an opportunity for us to be a positive agent for change."
No word has yet come as to whether the Volleyball World League, several matches of which will also be held in Iran, in July 2016 will see women allowed to enter stadiums, with previous volleyball online ticketing in Iran seeing people asked their gender as they purchased tickets – and women refused access.
Worden added: "It is 2016, whey is there a ban on women attending matches? It's the FIVB's tournament, they have all of the leverage and Iranian women have none."