FIFA, Iran ‘Assure’ Women Entry into Iranian Stadiums — For One Match Only


Sep 24, 2019


Image Credit: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

The world’s governing body of football, FIFA, is being exalted for putting pressure on Iran — the only country in the world to punish women for entering football stadiums, according to Amnesty International. FIFA stated unequivocally that the country’s unofficial ban on women football fans is unfair and needs to be lifted. This initiative by FIFA comes on the heels of the death of an Iranian female football fan, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire after she was arrested for trying to attend a football game at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran dressed as a man. As the news of her self-immolation and subsequent death spread across the globe, FIFA in its usual perfunctory manner, amped up highly publicized efforts to let Iran know FIFA won’t stand for this human rights violation. The organization conveniently failed to mention any consequences that may arise should Iran not acquiesce — because there were never going to be any. 

FIFA, in fantastic posturing, sent a delegation to Iran to convince the Iranian authorities to allow women into the stadium for an upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Cambodia and Iran on October 10 — a decision Iran had already taken before FIFA decided to intervene. In other news, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been instigating Iranian sporting authorities to take “concrete steps” to allow women into all football games. “We need to have women attending,” Infantino said at a FIFA women’s football conference on Sept. 22. “We have been assured that as of the next international game of Iran … women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. This is something very important — in 40 years this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions.”

The exceptions Infantino talks about exemplify FIFA’s performance when it comes to ensuring gender equality amongst its country federations — the last time Infantino visited Iran, 1,000 women were allowed to enter the Azadi stadium for a Persepolis game; as soon as he left, and the media disappeared, the women were banned again. The faux concern for gender rights is also apparent in the account of one Maryam, sister of the captain of Iran’s national football team, Masoud Shojaei, who said she sent eight letters to FIFA since Khodayari was charged. After no response from the organization, she provided officials with a 200,000-signature petition asking FIFA to make Iran lift the ban, or threaten consequences, The Guardian reported. The report further quotes Maryam, “No one took this seriously.”

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FIFA’s transparent attempt at performative progressivism has also been decried by Open Stadiums, “a movement of Iranian women seeking to end discrimination & let women attend stadiums,” according to the group’s Twitter — they called FIFA’s latest announcement “guilt-washing,” a quick, last-minute move the organization felt compelled to make lest they be considered dirtballs.

One of the main appeals these groups make to FIFA is the treatment of female football fans in Iran goes against FIFA’s code of ethics, an assertion made by FIFA’s own Human Rights Advisory Board in a report released earlier this year. The report states that Iran’s ban violates FIFA’s statutes that prohibit discrimination of any sort on the basis of gender, and can be punished by suspension of or a ban on the member federation in Iran. The report also advocated that FIFA set a timeframe within which Iran needs to lift the ban on its female football fans, in order to “align with FIFA’s human rights expectations.” Needless to say, FIFA has been soft-footing on this for months and has failed to give Iran an ultimatum — surprise, surprise, nothing in the country has actually changed.

As for the current one-match announcement, Infantino declared he is hopeful that this temporary lifting of the ban can pave way to blanket stadium entry permissions for female fans, a move he sees has “no noteworthy operational obstacles.” Iranian authorities, on the other hand, have explained otherwise: “We don’t see a problem with women attending if the atmosphere in stadiums is convenient, but with so much foul language among fans and violence, that is not advisable,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff said, The Guardian reported. 

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Women and girls across the globe are fighting for their right to play sports and engage in fandom free of stigma or harassment — and the sports industries and institutions seem woefully inept at supporting this fight. With Iran, FIFA has an opportunity to show it stands for women’s rights, that it won’t tolerate gross violation of women’s rights, and that it has the wherewithal to stand up to bullies.

But instead, FIFA treads water and hopes Iran listens to their “strong” recommendations, all the while Iranian female football fans remain at risk for harassment, assault and incarceration. For an international body that claims to be progressive at every convenient incident, FIFA needs to practice what they preach, uphold the human rights rules it claims to protect across the globe, and condemn member organizations — through policy, not words — that don’t follow suit. However, keeping in mind the human rights violations already documented by the thousands in Qatar — the site for 2022 World Cup — it doesn’t look like FIFA’s current administration is capable of anything more than sweet nothings.


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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