Iran censors soccer broadcast due to female referee’s attire

Iran, broadcast, Bibiana Steinhaus
Referee Bibiana Steinhaus admonished Rani Khedira of FC Augsburg during the Bundesliga match between FC Augsburg and FC Bayern Muenchen at WWK-Arena on Feb. 15, 2019 in Augsburg, Germany. The match wasn’t shown on Iranian TV because Steinhaus was in shorts, considered too revealing under Islamic law. (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)

Iranian state television IRIB canceled the broadcast of a top-level German soccer match on Feb. 15, with German media reporting the match’s female referee as the reason.

Islamic law dictates how women dress, leading many in the soccer world to contemplate how to balance equality with religious requirements.

Islamic law does not allow showing women wearing clothes that are deemed too revealing. Bibiana Steinhaus, the first female official to referee men’s soccer matches at a professional level, was wearing the standard officials’ shorts associated with the sport, breaking these codes.  

The match in Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, was between Augsburg and Bayern Munich, consistently one of the best teams in the world. The match ended in a 3-2 win for Bayern Munich.

Soccer is popular in Iran, but it has been a point of cultural controversy for the Iranian Republic. In Iran, movies and shows are censored to remove scenes with women wearing revealing clothing.

During the Iranian national women’s team matches, the players are required to wear a hijab, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Because referees are featured heavily in broadcast matches, reports stated it was not possible for the match to be seen without viewing her.

Iran correspondent for German public broadcaster ARD Natalie Amiri tweeted out, “who is to blame,” before answering her own question by explaining Steinhaus is a woman who wears shorts and that “should not be seen.”

In the past, women have been detained by police when trying to enter the stadium. Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women attending sporting matches in January 2018, leaving Iran as the only state enforcing it.  Recently, Iran has been taking small steps toward equality for female fans.

In June 2018, female fans were allowed to view a match in the Iranian city of Azadi’s stadium for the first time in 37 years. The World Cup match was streamed to screens in the stadium, and women were able to purchase tickets.

On Oct. 16, women were allowed to attend a friendly between Iran and Bolivia, although it was only a select group of women. The family members of players, female athletes and journalists were restricted to a specific section of the stadium.

Since then, women in Iran have been allowed entry to certain matches. They are still restricted to a section and are not allowed to sit with male spectators.

Ellie Simpson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University.