In an unprecedented turn of events, many Iranians are urging FIFA to ban their country from the World Cup for forcibly barring women from a match on Tuesday.

#Fifabaniri (FIFA ban Islamic Republic of Iran) and similar hashtags rose to the top of most used hashtags in Persian-language Twitter after security forces Tuesday violently barred women, who had tickets in their hands, from entering the Imam Reza Stadium in the religious city of Mashhad. To disperse women, they pepper sprayed them.

People from every walk of life, including former and current members of Iran's national team and top football clubs, politicians, the exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi, and many ordinary Iranians are pledging not to go to stadiums as long as women are not allowed to enter.

"As a member of the football family, I apologize to women who were held behind the stadium gates in Mashhad. The kind of football we want spreads a red carpet for its [female fans] and doesn't spray pepper at them, Javad Nekounam, former national team coach, said in an Instagram post Thursday which he appears to have removed later under pressure.

"Women should be able to come to stadiums. We are the only country, apart from Afghanistan, that doesn't allow women to enter stadiums. Why is it so?" Alireza Biranvand, a member of the national team, said in an interview with Tarafdari sports website Thursday.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and campaigner against forced hijab has taken it on herself to spearhead a campaign to ban Iran from competing in the World Cup later this year.

"I call on FIFA to ban the Islamic Republic because we, the women of Iran, are banned from entering stadium for 42 years," she told Daily Mail Wednesday. She argued that FIFA would have been stricter in enforcing its own regulations if Western countries had banned women from entering stadiums. "This is a total betrayal that FIFA do not take a strong action against a gender apartheid regime!" she said.

For nearly a decade the world’s soccer authority has tried to convince the Iran’s government to lift an unwritten, four-decade-old ban on women attending stadiums to watch male players. Iranian officials argue that male football fans swear profanities so the atmosphere of stadiums is not suitable for women even if they are seated in a different part of the stadium.

"FIFA's position … is clear: historic progress has been achieved – as exemplified by the milestone in October 2019, when thousands of women were allowed into the stadium … and more recently when some women were allowed again at the FIFA world Cup qualifier match in Tehran in January – and FIFA expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back," FIFA said in a statement Wednesday.

The ban has led to arrests, beatings, detentions, and abuses against women. In September 2019, a female football fan, Sahar Khodayari, who came to be known as the “Blue Girl” after her favorite team, Esteghlal FC, was reportedly sentenced to jail for trying to enter a stadium disguised as a man. She died by self-immolation, causing a domestic and international outcry.

“Iranian authorities have repeatedly demonstrated they are willing to go to great lengths to enforce their discriminatory and cruel ban on women attending football stadiums,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Given Iranian authorities’ longstanding violations, FIFA needs to follow its own global guidelines on non-discrimination and should consider enforcing penalties for Iran’s noncompliance,” she said.

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