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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Iran clergy angry over women fans
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Tehran

Iranian football crowd
It is hoped the presence of families will improve stadium behaviour
Iran's religious right is voicing growing opposition to a decision to let women watch football matches for the first time since the 1979 revolution.

Six grand ayatollahs and several MPs have protested against the move, saying it violates Islamic law for a woman to look at the body of a male stranger.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that stadiums would reserve special areas for women and families.

The move was welcomed by women's rights groups which long contested the ban.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who is regarded as an ultra conservative, lifted the male-spectators-only rule on Monday.

It was a highly populist move in a country where both sexes love football and there is growing excitement about the World Cup.

Bad language

Members of the clergy say it is wrong for men and women to look at each other's bodies, even if they have no intention of taking pleasure from it.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wearing Iran's football strip, practises with the national team
The president may find he has kicked an own goal
One MP said, if the reformists had tried this, there would have been suicide bombers protesting on the streets of Teheran.

A hardline newspaper said the atmosphere in football stadiums was now so deplorable one should weep - a reference to the bad language and rowdy behaviour of male football fans here.

It is this failure to control the male spectators that is often given as the main reason for not allowing women into football matches.

Women can watch football broadcast on Iranian television and they can attend basketball and volleyball matches even though they too involve men dressed in shorts.

Speaking on state-run television on Monday, Mr Ahmadinejad said he had ordered the head of Iran's Physical Education Committee to make sure women were adequately catered for during Iran's major sporting occasions.

"The presence of women and families in public places promotes chastity," he said.

"The best stands should be allocated to women and families in the stadiums in which national and important matches are being held."

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