Iranian women in Tehran’s Azadi stadium on a rare occasion when a few hundred were allowed in

Iran Claims To Be Lifting Ban On Women’s Entry Into Soccer Stadiums

Saturday, 07/01/2023
Maryam Sinaiee

British Iranian journalist and political analyst

Iran's National Security Council has decided that women can from now on attend soccer matches in stadiums, but security bodies are still deliberating the details. 

Announcing the news Friday, Mehdi Taj, chairman of Iran's football federation, said a taskforce consisting of the ministries of interior and sports, the federation and “two security bodies” has been set up to decide about the manner of implementing the potentially groundbreaking decision. 

The world’s soccer authority (FIFA) has tried to convince the Islamic Republic for nearly a decade to lift the unwritten ban on women attending stadiums to watch male players. 

In some instances, authorities have allowed women on a limited scale to watch some matches at the stadium in the past few years but since March 2022 the ban has been reimposed despite FIFA’s insistence on allowing unrestricted access to stadiums to women. 

This scenario can repeat itself, whereby the government would allow a few thousand women to enter a stadium just to show to FIFA that there is no ban.

In March 2022, hundreds of women who had purchased tickets online to watch the World Cup qualifier between the national team and Lebanon in the religious city of Mashhad were refused entry. 

The women were tear-gassed and pepper sprayed by security forces when they insisted that they had the right to watch the game and protested. Several women were reportedly injured in the incident. 

Without apologizing for the violence against women, Iran's football federation blamed “ticket forgers” and women who it accused of lying about their gender at the time of the purchase of online tickets. 

Although Iran won the game 2-0, thereby qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar, in an unprecedented turn of events, some Iranians urged FIFA to bar their country from the tournament. 

Consequently the #Fifabaniri (FIFA ban Islamic Republic of Iran) and similar hashtags rose to the top of most-used hashtags in Persian-language Twitter at the time. 

"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 after the incident.

There is little doubt that FIFA has been lenient over the years and the Iranian regime has played around with the international federation, by sometimes allowing a small group of women, even handpicked, to watch a game.

The Islamic Republic has banned female spectators from football stadiums for over four decades. 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. 

The ban has led to arrests, beatings, detentions, and abuses against women. 

In 2005 a group of Iranian women for the first time defied the ban and managed to get into a stadium in Tehran to watch a World Cup qualifier match between Iran and Bahrain. The clerical establishment was outraged by the incident and used it as an excuse to attack the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami.

The renowned director Jafar Panahi made Offside, a film about the incident which won the Sliver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2006.

Female fans had to wait until October 2019 to be allowed to enter a soccer stadium in limited numbers when authorities had to relent under pressure from FIFA, which threatened to penalize the Iranian federation for gender discrimination. 

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. 

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