Fifa calls for Iran to lift ban on women in stadiums

TEHRAN, IRAN: Iranian women hold portraits of Iran's national football players while watching Iran's national football team exercise at their World Cup 2006 training camp on May 20, 2006 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Majid/Getty Images)

Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino has called Iran’s ban on women attending football matches “unacceptable” and called for it to be lifted.

Iran banned women from entering football stadiums after the Islamic revolution in the country in 1979. In recent weeks, government spokesmen have indicated they are moving towards lifting the ban.

In a statement on the matter yesterday, Infantino said: “I am hopeful that the Iranian Federation and the Iranian authorities were receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation…Our position is clear and firm. Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran.”

The statement comes in the wake of the death two weeks ago of Sahar Khodayari, a female fan who set herself on fire outside a courthouse in Iran in protest at her treatment for attempting to gain access to a football match. Khodayari was denied entry to a football stadium in Tehran. According to media reports, she was detained for dressing as a man to enter the stadium and believed she faced six months in prison.

It looks likely that the Iranian government will heed Infantino’s call, after spokesman Ali Rabiei told the Asean Football Federation: “Tickets will go on sale for all females for the [upcoming national team World Cup qualifying] match against Cambodia. We cannot ignore the women-related issues. We need to show tolerance and should not create a situation in which a girl like Sahar Khodayari setting herself on fire.”

Hossein Ali Amiri, vice-president for parliamentary affairs, has said the Iranian government is in the midst of preparatory works for entry of women to stadiums, including setting up separate gates and demarcating women-only areas and services, under guidelines from Masoud Soltanifar, the minister of sport and youth.

Fifa has proposed Iran lifts the ban in time for the 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, which is scheduled to be staged at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium in Tehran on October 10. Infantino said he was hopeful of cooperation from Iranian football authorities and the government: “I contacted them several times in the recent past and so has the Fifa administration. We have a delegation of Fifa members in Iran at the moment and I am looking forward to hearing good news from them…

“We understand there are steps and processes that need to be taken before this is done in a proper and safe way, but now is the moment to change things and Fifa is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October.”

Iran briefly relaxed the ban last November and about 1,000 female football fans were allowed into the Azadi Stadium to watch Iran Pro League’s Persepolis FC face J-League club Kashima Antlers in the second leg of their AFC Asian Champions League final clash.