Condoleezza Rice, pictured speaking during today's Securing Sport Conference ©ITG

Women being banned from watching volleyball matches in Iran is "ridiculous", according to former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who believes sport can be a major platform to drive forward gender equality.

Rice, who served during the second George W Bush administration between 2005 and 2009, was speaking here on the second day of the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS)-sponsored Securing Sport conference.

The rights of women in sport was cited as a major priority, with the 60-year-old claiming "a country that treats women badly is a dangerous country".

She added: "Women have to have the right and ability to excel in sports, just like they can in anything else.

"Equality is necessary for women to fully reach their potential.

"Ensuring for women a full and complete partnership should be a key aspect of securing sport."

Rice claimed all those who are part of international bodies should respect female rights, deeming it "ridiculous that women cannot watch a volleyball game".

"That says something about Iran," she said.

"If they want to show the world they have modernised, then letting women watch volleyball would be a pretty good mantra."

The arrest of Ghoncheh Ghavami last year shone light on the Iranian policy towards women attending volleyball matches ©
The arrest of British-Iranian woman Ghoncheh Ghavami last year shone light on the Iranian policy towards females attending volleyball matches ©

A 25-year long rule banning women from attending football matches in the Islamic nation was extended to volleyball in 2012.

The issue gained worldwide publicity last year following the arrest of British-Iranian woman Ghoncheh Ghavami after she attended an International Volleyball Federation World League match in Tehran.

Ghavami, arrested for "propaganda against the regime" rather than directly for attending the match, spent 151 days in the notorious Evin prison before she was released and charges were eventually dropped. 

But, Human Rights Watch has launched more criticism today after women were refused entry to a historic match between the Iranian and United States men's team's at Tehran's 12,000 seater Azadi Sports Complex. 

Rice, who in 2012 became among the first raft of female members at Augusta National Golf Club in its 80 year history, believes the way to improve women's rights is to give them greater judicial and constitutional power to do so.

The official, who dealt with Iran extensively during her time in office, also defended the United States' right to interfere in sports administration in the aftermath of its investigation into football governing body, FIFA, this year.

She defended the US Attorney's right to sanction FIFA on the grounds that America remains a "great power", which is therefore entitled to meddle in international affairs.

"Of course, great powers will use their weight," she said.

"I believe fully in the right of the US to make sure US laws and institutions are not being used to shield corruption."

Related stories:
October 2015: FIVB confirm Iranian-leg of beach volleyball World Tour calendar for 2016
October 2015: Exclusive: Iran set to be awarded beach volleyball World Tour event as FIVB work to lift ban on women
April 2015: International Volleyball Federation President welcomes relaxing of Iran's ban on women attending sporting events
April 2015: Iran to relax ban on women attending sports events, but will not lift it
August 2012: Augusta golf club drops men-only rule to welcome top politician Rice as female member