Let Women Enter Their Stadiums
Darya Safai aimed to raise awareness about the fact that Iranian women are not allowed to attend male sporting events in their country. Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty

A female Iranian activist was asked to leave the Rio Olympics volleyball match for holding up a protest banner that read: "Let Iranian women enter their stadiums." The woman's shirt also had the same words printed on it.

Darya Safai was protesting against the Iran government's ban on women attending all-male sporting events in Iran. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) bans all political statements at the games and asked Safai to take down the sign and leave the stadium.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Safai said: "They said they didn't want the sign in front of the cameras and they asked us to leave. They even tried to impress me with military people. I think it is a pity they always listen to what the Islamic Republic of Iran says."

Safai was sitting in a front-row courtside seat at the Maracanazinho arena when the incident took place. She said that she briefly cried "because it hurts" but refused to leave the stadium when officials asked her to leave.

The 35-year-old was born in Iran's capital of Tehran but now lives in Belgium and is the founder of the Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums! campaign. The ban on women attending all-male sporting events in Iran has been in place since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Safai said: "This is not the first time I had this experience, but I won't give up because that's what Iranian women do, they keep fighting for their rights."

Safai confirmed that she has tickets to another game on 15 August and would attempt to bring her message back there once again. Safai has won the support of USA Volleyball chairwomen Lori Okimura, who has since spoken out about the issue and even worn her own Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums t-shirt.

"This is not a political statement," said Okimura. "This is not a political issue. 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?"

Speaking about her decision to bring the message of the Iranian women to the Rio Olympics, Safai said that it was a "pity" women in her country had to travel to Brazil to attend a sports game.

"The Olympic Spirit, which is against discrimination, is what Iranian women need in their country. It should be the right of everyone, men and women, to attend a sports game."

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