Soccer Star’s Husband Bars Her From Game — Niloufar Ardalan Must Stay Home With Son

Iran’s top female soccer player and captain of the Iranian women’s soccer team, Niloufar Ardalan, has been forbidden to play in an upcoming tournament by her husband.

Nicknamed ‘Lady Goal,’ Niloufar’s husband hasn’t allowed her to renew her passport because he wants her to stay home and take care their 7-year-old son and be around for his first day of school, The Guardian reports.

The AFC Women’s Futsal Championship is an important one in Ardalan’s career, as it brings together Asia’s best female soccer players into one event; it will held in Malaysia next week and is the first of its kind. Niloufar Ardalan has been playing futsal, a type of soccer, for 19 years.

“This is the first time such Asian championships are held and I had participated in all training camps by the national team,” Ardalan told Iran’s Nasim Online news agency. “But I will miss the tournament because my husband is opposed to me [traveling] abroad.”

Ardalan’s husband is reportedly sports journalist Mehdi Toutounchi, adds. He is a public figure, as well, appearing on Iran’s State TV, and has not yet responded to comments Niloufar has made publicly.

Ardalan has openly expressed her disappointment with his decision not to sign the appropriate paperwork for her passport.

“Because of his opposition to my travel abroad, I [will] miss the matches. I wish authorities would create [measures] that would allow female athletes to defend their rights in such situations.”

Ardalan’s case has ignited both anger and support on social media. Among them is revolutionary Ebrahim Asgharzadeh who said, via Instagram, “What is her crime? Why can’t she accompany her team for Asian Cup and travel abroad?” Cartoonist Shahrokh Heydari drew Niloufar playing soccer with one of her legs chained.

Niloufar Ardalan’s exclusion from the tournament is just one of many examples of discrimination against women in Iran. According to The Guardian women must wear hijab, including on the soccer field; don’t have equality in inheritance rights; can be charged as criminal at age nine, rather than age 15 for boys; and if they testify in court, their testimony is worth less than that of a man’s. According to The Associated Press, women’s sports nearly vanished after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but have seen a resurgence since.

The restrictions on a woman’s ability to travel, like those imposed on Ardalan, are just another example of discrimination in Iran. As The Guardian also states, single women between under 18 can’t travel without permission from their father, though single woman over 18 can travel abroad freely. The restrictions start when a woman gets married; by default, she must get permission from her husband. Men must formally give up that power through their marriage contract. These days, many young women require that condition before even accepting a proposal.

Evidently, Niloufar Ardalan didn’t require her husband to relinquish that power. She’s said that foreign media has made too much out of her plight, but at the same time, expressed regret at missing the tournament and called for the law to change.

“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… I wish a law would be approved that allows female soldiers to fight for raising the flag.”

[Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images]