Iran’s soccer federation has denied reports that it had sent a proposal to parliament that women fans be allowed to enter stadiums to watch men’s games.

Earlier this week, media claimed the federation had suggested draft legislation to allow women to be spectators, after a 40-year ban. But the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported Saturday that the federation had denied these reports, which had cited the federation’s own officials.

It was not immediately clear whether the federation had back-pedalled due to political pressure from conservatives who oppose women at games.

Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in 2006 that a ban on women’s attendance, introduced after the 1979 Revolution, would be lifted, but he backed down after objections from senior Muslim clerics.

FIFA, the international football or soccer federation, has been calling on Iran to relax the rule and allow women into stadiums. A select number of women were allowed to attend World Cup qualifying games in 2018.

But lack of further progress led to FIFA considering banning Iran from international games, which led the government to allow around 3,000 women − a small fraction of the attendance − to watch a game between Iran and Cambodia two years ago, in October 2019, exactly 38 years after women were first banned in October 1981.

Women soccer fans were encouraged that things were moving in the direction they wanted. But in restricting attendance at all sports, the Covid-19 pandemic also stopped the trend toward allowing women in Iran to attend games.

A strict version of Islamic and cultural tradition restricts women’s contact with men, and a sports stadium packed with male spectators and where woman watch men compete, alarms many conservative clerics.

But women know that before the 1979 revolution they were allowed to do many things they are barred from today, including not wearing hijab, riding a bicycle, even a motorcycle and holding high level government jobs.

But FIFA is likely to renew its pressure. Recently, Iran announced that all attendance was banned in an international match against South Korea in Tehran, but the people were allowed to watch the game in cinema theatres.

Ostensibly, the ban on stadium attendance was for the pandemic, but many pointed out that cinemas were just as conducive, if not more so, to spreading coronavirus.

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