Banned from stadiums, Iran’s female football fans watch from a distance hoping FIFA can help

While foreign women have been allowed limited access to matches, Iranian women have been banned from stadiums where men’s teams have been playing since 1979.
Saturday 21/09/2019
Waiting for change. An Iranian woman watches a football game with her friend at a cafe in Tehran. (Reuters)
Waiting for change. An Iranian woman watches a football game with her friend at a cafe in Tehran. (Reuters)

LONDON - FIFA President Gianni Infantino told Iran it is time to allow women into football stadiums and that FIFA expects “positive developments,” starting with Iran’s home match in October.

While foreign women have been allowed limited access to matches, Iranian women have been banned from stadiums where men’s teams have been playing since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Infantino said in a FIFA statement that he was hopeful that the Iranian football federation and government authorities had been receptive to “our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation.”

“Our position is clear and firm. Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. Now is the moment to change things and FIFA is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October,” he said.

Iran, which has qualified for five World Cup finals, including each of the last two, hosts Cambodia October 10 in its first home game of the 2022 qualifying competition. The match will test Iran’s commitment to improving access for women in sporting events amid a growing protest movement at home and abroad, analysts said.

Iranian authorities faced backlash after a female fan died after setting herself on fire to protest against her arrest for attending a match. Sahar Khodayari, dubbed “Blue Girl” for the colours of her favourite team Esteghlal, died after her self-immolation outside a court where she feared she would be sentenced to six months in prison for having attended the match disguised as a man.

Khodayari’s death sparked outrage, prompting calls on social media for Iran’s football federation to be suspended or banned by FIFA. Critics said FIFA statutes hold discrimination on grounds of gender punishable by suspension or expulsion.

Amnesty International said, “Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women” seeking to enter football stadiums.

There were signs the situation regarding female fans in Iran was changing when women were permitted to attend the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in Tehran last November, a match Infantino attended, but authorities backtracked and denied females access to games.  At Iran’s friendly against Syria in June, women were locked out of the Azadi Stadium and detained by security forces.

Iran’s young female football fans instead crammed Tehran’s shopping centres and cafes to watch the match.

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi has maintained that “the situation in the stadiums is not suitable for women and there is no doubt that the youth’s mingling and freedom are the source of many moral and social problems.”

Responding to growing international backlash to their discriminatory policy, authorities promised to gradually shift their policies, allowing women to enter stadiums and instructed the sports minister to improve “the moral atmosphere” prior to the admission of female football fans.

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