FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced at a conference last month that for the first time in almost 40 years, Iran will allow women to attend soccer games. Iran’s next game — at which this new practice will be put into effect — is against Cambodia at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Oct. 10.
Iran’s history of discrimination against female fans is long and brutal.
Since 1981 — two years after the Iranian revolution which overthrew the Shah and brought in the Islamic regime — women have been banned from entering soccer stadiums in Iran. In recent years, protests outside of stadiums during and after matches increased in efforts to reverse the ban.
In March 2018, Iranian officials arrested 35 women who snuck into a stadium disguised as men. The next day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly promised FIFA that “women in Iran would have access to stadiums soon.”
A breakthrough seemed possible during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when Iranian women were finally allowed to enter Azadi Stadium to watch a live broadcast of their national team’s game against Spain. Hours before the match started, however, authorities announced that the watch party had been cancelled due to “infrastructure difficulties.” Still, thousands of fans — male and female — who had already purchased tickets gathered outside the stadium and protested in front of a line of police officers. After an hour, the police officers gave in and allowed the fans to enter into the stadium. The Iranian national team’s Twitter account even tweeted a photo of the scene with the caption, “Azadi Stadium now!”
After the event at Azadi Stadium, many were hoping the ban would be permanently overturned. This was not the case. The ban was reinstated after the match between Iran and Spain and has been enforced ever since.
In March, 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari attempted to sneak into Azadi Stadium to watch her favorite club, Esteghlal, play a match. She attempted to disguise herself as a man but was stopped by security, handed over to the police and jailed in an infamously squalid prison which used to be a chicken farm. On Sept. 2, upon learning that she would be sentenced to six months in prison, she lit herself on fire. She died in the hospital about a week later.
This event sparked outrage across the world, from fans and athletes alike. FIFA then released a statement, stating that Iran must allow women to enter its stadiums — an unprecedented move from the world’s governing soccer body.
Even after Iran’s latest promise to allow women in soccer stadiums, there are still those who oppose the move. Days after Infantino announced that Iran would allow women to soccer games in the country, Iranian Attorney General Mohamad Jafar Montazeri blasted Iran’s decision and blamed FIFA for putting pressure on the country to overturn its ban. Given Iran’s false promises and missteps in the past, we will have to wait until Oct. 10 to see what happens.
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