Football fans in Iran had to endure state TV cutting away from its broadcast of Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League match against Manchester United on Sunday to avoid showing the legs of assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis.
Each time Massey-Ellis appeared on the screen, the broadcaster cut away to landscape shots of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the streets around the ground.
According to Iranian women’s civil rights group My Stealthy Freedom, the decision was to prevent viewers seeing her bare legs.
“The television censors were rattled by the presence of a female referee in shorts,” the group said in a statement.
“Their solution was to cut away from the action to views of London’s backstreets, which made a mockery of the game. At the end of the game, one of the commentators joked that he hoped the viewers enjoyed the geographic show,” it added.
“Censorship is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should not normalise this practice. This is not our culture. This is the ideology of a repressive regime.”
In 2018, an Iranian state TV channel blurred out AS Roma’s badge during coverage of their Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona due to it containing an image of a female wolf feeding the mythical founders of the city, Romulus and Remus.
It is not the first case of censorship on a sports broadcast in Iran. In the past, the state radio in Iran had censored pictures of Bibiana Steinhaus when she was leading the Bundesliga match between 1. FC Köln and FC Bayern.
Massey-Ellis has been a Premier League match official for over a decade and has been a FIFA Women’s Referee since 2009.
Additional reporting from Sport1 and Arab News
Cover image via Premier League