Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea in Tehran was played without fans, thwarting women after earlier notice that they would be admitted.
After the Iranian Football Federation announced Sunday there would be no spectators, a federation official, Hasan Kamranifar, said Monday the decision reflected difficulty in carrying out PCR tests or checking fans had been vaccinated.
The John Hopkins Covid-19 tracker puts the number of deaths from the virus in Iran in the past week at 1,521.
Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsajani, told Ensaf News on Monday that Covid was an excuse. “This is a trick”, she said. “I hope Iranian girls don't give up, go to the stadium gates like they have always done not to lose what is their right.”
Hashemi said she hoped that Fifa, the world governing body for soccer, would not be deceived. In the past few years, Fifa has called on Iran to allow women into stadiums to watch men’s games. In October 2019, the ban on women was lifted for one game, between Iran and Cambodia at the 100,000-capacity Azadi stadium.
On Tuesday, the day of the game, an official of the cinema-owners’ association told the media that some cinemas would show the game live. "Will the PCR test be given to those who go to the cinemas?" the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) asked. "Is a football match with 7,000 spectators at Azadi Stadium more dangerous than watching it in closed spaces of cinemas?"
The issue of women watching men’s soccer, where female attendance was restricted after the 1979 Revolution, flared up in 2006, when principlist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad backed down under pressure from senior Muslim clergy after deciding to let them in.
In recent years, women activists have organized campaigns to gain access to men’s games and some have gone to prison for their protests. In 2019 a 19-year-old fan of Esteghlal FC self-immolated in front of a Tehran court after being told she could face a six-month prison sentence for attempting to enter Azadi stadium disguised as a man. She died in hospital a week later of her injuries.
Hashemi, who from 1990 to 2011 headed the Women's Sports Federation, criticized the state broadcaster (IRIB) for not airing women's sports. "It's disrespect and violation of women's rights," she said, suggesting authorities had a "political and security-oriented view" of women's athletics. "I see no positive prospects for women's sports during [President Ebrahim] Raisi's [Raeesi] presidency," she opined.
The Covid pandemic led to football being played without spectators, but authorities had earlier suggested 7,000 fans could watch the Iran-Korea match provided that they had proof they had received two doses of the Covid vaccine. The game finished in a 1-1 draw, with Iran equalizing late with a header from Alireza Jahanabkhsh to stay top of the group.