Niloufar Ardoulan, 30, is the captain of Iran's Women's football team - but her husband won't let her play...
You all know the storyline behind Bend It Like Beckham, right? A teenage girl wants to play football with Keira Knightley – and she’s good at playing football with Keira Knightley – but her family disapproves, and she almost has to miss playing in the championship because of it.
Well, now a really similar thing is happening to a woman in Iran (just, you know: without Keira Knightley).
Niloufar Ardoulan, 30, has been playing football for 19 years, is thought to be the country’s best ever player, and is captain of the women’s team. But now her teammates are off to play at the AFC Women’s Championships in Malaysia – and she’s not being allowed to go – simply because her husband won’t agree to it, and Iranian law dictates that women need to get their husbands’ permission before leaving the country.
‘This is the first time such Asian championships are held and I had participated in all training camps by the national team,’ Niloufar told Iran’s Nasim Online news agency. ‘But I will miss the tournament because my husband is opposed to me travelling abroad.’
‘This tournament was very important for me and as a Muslim woman I wanted to hold my country’s flag high, I wasn’t going there to have fun,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to fight for my national flag. The national team needs me but I’m not able to join them.’
But her husband, Mehdi Totounchi, refuses to back down, and reportedly even went so far as to say that it would make Niloufar a bad mother to their seven year old son if she made the journey.
Now, as Niloufar continues her bid to change her partner’s mind, female athletes and cartoonists are campaigning on her behalf. Illustrator Shahrokh Heydari even drew a cartoon of Niloufar with her foot chained to a symbol representing womanhood.
It’s not the first time Iran has come under fire for its approach to women – and sport. In 2014, British-Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami was jailed for five years for watching a men’s volleyball game, and even the country’s female vice president got involved.
As it stands, Iranian women under the age of 18 are only allowed to travel abroad if they have a male guardian’s permission. Once they turn 18, they can do whatever they want (in terms of travel), but must relinquish that power when they get married – unless their husband signs a contract to say his wife can leave the country of her own accord.
Interested in this? Have you read about The World’s Worst Anti-Women Laws?