Iran's government and football federation officials are blaming each other for an incident in Mashhad during which women who wanted to watch a soccer game were pepper sprayed.
On Tuesday security forces denied women entry into a stadium to watch a FIFA World Cup qualifier between Iran and Lebanon and used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse them.
In a statement Wednesday, the football federation of the Islamic Republic blamed time constraints for failing to properly organize ticket sales and organizing women's presence at the Emam Reza Stadium in the religious city of Mashhad and argued that federation officials had not "invited" women to purchase tickets to watch the game.
Without offering any apologies, the federation also said that there had been no plans to allow spectators to watch the game at until 72 hours before the game and claimed that the tickets held by women had been sold by "ticket forgers" or the women who purchase tickets online had lied about their gender. "Only nine women had purchased tickets for men's section of the stadium who will be reimbursed with 48 hours," the statement said.
"Doubtlessly the bitter episodes during this game were the result of mischief and profiteering of individuals who jeopardized the order and security of the stadium by printing and selling fake tickets," the federation alleged.
Many Iranians on social media have slammed the federation for suggesting that women should have been "invited" to watch the game by the federation authorities, but men could do so without being granted a special permission. "This statement is clear evidence of gender discrimination," a tweet by an Iran journalist who also called for a FIFA ban on Iran's football federation said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the incident which occurred in his hometown of Mashhad. The incident may mar Raisi's scheduled provincial tour to Mashhad where he headed with some cabinet ministers on Wednesday.
Iran's state media which are controlled by hardliners completely ignored the news about the incident in Mashhad. The state broadcaster (IRIB) did not report the violence against women and even censored a remark by Alireza Jahanbakhsh, one of the players for Iran's national team, who after the game said in an interview that he hoped women could watch the team's games at stadiums in the future.
The official news agency IRNA also censored the violence against female soccer fans in its reports. IRNA said Wednesday that Raisi has ordered the interior minister to investigate the "ticket sales process, failure to abide by the Covid protocols … regarding the maximum number of those allowed to attend the game," as well as "the violation of the rights of some citizens who had purchased tickets".
FIFA has been insisting for years that the Islamic Republic should relax the ban on women's presence at soccer stadiums and allow female spectators to its stadiums.
"FIFA should be held accountable for participating in Iran's human rights violation because it has not enforced its clear regulations and disciplinary rules on Iran codes all these years," Mehdi Rostampour, journalist and former presenter of sports program for the state-run broadcaster (IRIB), told Iran International TV on Wednesday.