independent: The Iranian women’s soccer team will be short one player when it travels to Malaysia to compete in an indoor soccer championship next week. That’s because, according to local reports, the team captain doesn’t have a passport — her husband refused to sign papers to allow his wife to renew it.

Niloufar Ardalan, 30, is married to sports journalist Mahdi Toutounchi, who under Iranian law has the right to keep his wife from leaving the country. His reason for keeping Ardalan at home, according to reports, is that he did not want Ardalan to miss their 7-year-old son’s first day of school on Sept. 23. The Asian Football Confederation Futsal Championship is set to run from Sept. 21-26.
Ardulan expressed dismay over her husband’s decision and called on the country to revise its laws when it comes to allowing women to leave the country.

“These games were very important to me,” she told Nasimonline (via “As a Muslim woman, I wanted to work for my country’s flag to be raised [at the games], rather than travelling for leisure and fun.”

She added: “I wish authorities would create [measures] that would allow female athletes to defend their rights in such situations.”
Ardulan, who has been heralded as Iran’s best female player, is a longtime advocate for women’s rights in Iran, especially when it comes to equal treatment in sports. In 2005, she made headlines for being one of the first women to attend a men’s national team match. She had to petition Iran’s soccer governing body for permission, however.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in Iran in the last 10 years. Despite promises to ease restrictions, women are still banned from attending men’s sporting events in the country. In some cases, the country has even arrested women who tried to do so. The most famous example came last year when Ghoncheh Ghavami went to jail for five months after attempting to attend a men’s volleyball game.

While Ardulan won’t end up in jail — without her passport, she has no choice but to follow the law and remain in the country — women’s rights advocates hope her case will raise awareness to bring change.

“This just shows to what extent this law can impact a woman’s life,” Shadi Sadr, the director of the human rights group Justice for Iran, told Radio Free Europe earlier this week. “Even if a woman reaches the highest ranks in politics, sports, or culture, she still needs her husband’s consent for one of her most basic rights — travelling abroad.”

Sadr continued: “[Ardulan] broke the silence, and this could lead to other women taking the courage to detail and shed light on other similar cases.”