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Iranian Government eases restrictions on women entering football stadiums

Iranian Government eases restrictions on women entering football stadiums
January 27, 2024

Longstanding restrictions on Iranian women watching live football in the nation’s sport stadia -marked by high profile protests over the years - appear to have been eased with 3,000 women recently admitted to the Azadi Stadium to watch the Tehran derby between the Persian Gulf Pro League rivals Persepolis and Esteghlal.

With world football governing body FIFA having tried to convince the Islamic Republic for nearly a decade to lift the unwritten ban on women attending stadiums to watch male players, the admission of women to watch fixtures in the nation’s elite football competition follows Iran's National Security Council having announced in the middle of last year that restrictions were to be lifted.

Subsequently, Iran Football Federation (IFF) Chairman, Mehdi Taj advised that 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.

According to local media, December’s Persepolis and Esteghlal clash saw seats in the upper tiers of the 87,000 seat stadium allocated to women and girls.

Welcoming the move, Open Stadiums, a movement of Iranian women which seeks to end discrimination, stated “the opening of stadiums in Iran is a result of two decades of campaigning constantly against the regime and religious clerics who are anti-women’s rights

“It comes after lots of physical harassment and even the death of a female fan.”

In September 2019, a female Persepolis fan, Sahar Khodayari, who became known as the ‘Blue Girl’ for the colour of her team, was reportedly sentenced to jail for trying to enter a stadium. She died by self-immolation in front of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

In October that year, with FIFA having set a deadline for Iran to allow women and girls stadium access, the Government permitted a limited number to attend a World Cup qualifier match.

However, since then, the Iranian Government has been seen to use various tactics to restrict the number of women and girls at stadiums.

In March 2022, hundreds of women who had purchased tickets online to watch the FIFA 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 apologising for the violence against women, the IFF blamed “ticket forgers” and women who it accused of lying about their gender at the time of the purchase of online tickets.

Saudi Arabia, which previously banned women from attending live sport, eased its restrictions in 2017. 

Images: Iranian women in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium (top) and some of the 3000 female Esteghlal and Persepolis fans that watched the Tehran derby at the Azadi Stadium in December (below, credit: @theafcdotcom/X).

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