Images of spectators participating in the third week of the world volleyball championships in Tehran revealed a number of women inside the stadium.

Women spectators participating in the world volleyball championships in Tehran, July 2016

Women spectators participating in the world volleyball championships in Tehran, July 2016

In the past years Islamic Republic official have barred Iranian women from entering stadiums to watch sports events.

Meanwhile activists have been challenging the prohibition and despite their concerted efforts with the moderate government of President Rohani, conservative factions have persisted in preventing women from attending sports events.

Now the recent show of women in the first week of July 2016 in the Azadi stadium has been questioned in social media as tokenism.

The volleyball games were held in Tehran on Saturday and Sunday. The volleyball federation announced that 466 tickets were sold to women but a message in the early stages of ticket sales told purchasers that due to the limited number of seats for women there were no more tickets available for women.

Last week Iran’s National TV aired images of spectators in a game between Iran and Serbia and the group of women shown appeared to be mostly dressed in strict Islamic dress code for women and lacking in enthusiasm toward the game.

The social media exchanges maintain that the women in the stadium were families of the players or employees of the ministry of youth and sports who had been instructed to control their behaviour in the stadium.

The reports in twitter maintain that the token presence of women among the spectators is only to prevent Iran’s exclusion from hosting the games due to the restriction Islamic Republic officials are setting against women spectators.

The restrictions against women attending volleyball events in Tehran stadiums go back to two years ago when Iran faced Japan in two games in Tehran to determine the Asian representative in the FIVB World League 2014. No woman was barred from attending the first game but thousands were prevented from attending the second, and highly sensitive, game.

In 2014, the clusters of women trying to get into the games was then dispersed by security officers. Websites linked to conservative factions reported at the time that the prohibition was brought about following “inappropriate scenes” caused by the presence of women in the first game.

Iran’s Women’s Sports Adviser was quoted as saying that their office is against barring women from attending sports events in stadiums adding that “measures could be put in place to resolve the opposition to women’s presence in stadiums.

Despite promises, Shahindokht Molaverdi, President Hassan Rohani’s Adviser in Women and Family Affairs has been quoted as saying that the administration has abandoned efforts to facilitate presence of women as spectators in sports events due to opposition from senior religious figures.