Footballers in Iran's professional women's league are to undergo mandatory gender tests to establish that they are fully female.
The country's football governing body is bringing in the random checks after it was revealed that several leading players - including four in the national women's team - were either men who had not completed sex change operations, or were suffering from sexual development disorders. Gender change operations are legal in Iran according to a fatwa - or religious ruling - pronounced by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The law contrasts with the strict rules governing sexual morality under the country's Sharia legal code, which forbids homosexuality and pre-marital sex.
Medical examiners will turn up unannounced at training sessions of teams playing in Iran's women's premier league, as well as those playing in the indoor league, known as footsal. Ahmad Hashemian, head of the Iranian football federation's medical committee, said the clubs themselves were now obliged to carry out medical examinations to establish the gender of their players before signing them on contracts. Those unable to prove they are female would be barred from taking part in the women's leagues until they underwent medical treatment, he said.
"If these people can solve their problems through surgery and be in a position to receive the necessary medical qualifications, they will then be able to participate in [women's] football," Mr Hashemian, a qualified doctor, said. Sex changes are commonly carried out in phases in Iran, with the full procedure taking up to two years and including hormone therapy before the full gender transformation is completed. Seven players have already had their contracts terminated under the federation's gender test directive. Football is highly popular among many Iranian women, despite religious rules that bar them from entering stadiums to watch matches between male teams.