RIO DE JANEIRO – Iranian sports fan and activist Darya Safai returned to the Olympic volleyball venue repeating her message and hoping the whole world hears: "Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums."
After discussions with about a half-dozen venue officials — including in Farsi — leading up to the Iran men's team's match with defending champion Russia, she was allowed to stay Monday and hold her sign in a front-row, courtside seat.
"They said I can stay. I am here to stay," she said.
On Saturday, she was in tears when security officials told her she would have to leave if she kept it. Olympic officials do not allow political statements at the games, though the 35-year-old Safai insists "it's a gender message."
Her tears were of joy Monday, when Iran lost in straight sets but her voice was heard. She posed for photos with fans, giving the thumbs-up sign and a peace sign.
"This sign to me, it means a lot," said Safai, born in Tehran but living in Belgium. "The people protect me."
The Olympics have provided the chance for some Iranian women to see a volleyball game for the first time.
Women are generally banned from all-male sports events in Iran. The men's volleyball team reached its first Olympics and still had a shot at the quarterfinals.
This time, the 35-year-old Safai was told she could hold the sign and wear a T-shirt with a similar message. She initially sat in a seat that had better visibility for television cameras, even though she paid for a different one. By the third set, she had to move once someone came for that seat.