By Andrew Warshaw
October 7 – Iranian women are reported to have snapped up thousands of tickets for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia following pressure from FIFA on the authorities to finally end the draconian ban on female fans attending men’s matches.
Last month, Gianni Infantino said FIFA “cannot wait any more” for women to be allowed into Iranian stadiums to watch men’s games and that he had been “assured” the authorities would relent ahead of this week’s qualifier.
His comments came shortly after a FIFA delegation visited Iran in the aftermath of the grotesque tragedy of a 29-year-old female fan dying after setting fire to herself.
Sahar Khodayari self-immolated outside a courthouse after being arrested trying to sneak into the Azadi stadium disguised as a man to watch her beloved Esteghlal FC face UAE’s Al Ain in an AFC Champions League match. She was rushed to hospital but later died of her wounds and was immediately dubbed ‘Blue Girl’ after the colours of her favourite team.
Khodayari could have faced six months in jail and the gruesome case prompted a global outcry highlighting Iran’s ban on women watching men’s football since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with the odd recent exception where female supporters were hand-picked.
The semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA said the 3,500 tickets allocated for women sections sold out within minutes of going on sale on Friday morning, the first time in 40 years where women could legally buy tickets for an Iranian men’s match.
But that tells only half the story. According to local reports, those women attending the Cambodia game will not be allowed to mix freely with men, with special sections of the stadium set aside under gender segregation.
Worse still, Human Rights Watch have denounced the decision by Tehran to cap the number of women allowed to attend at 4,600 out of a stadium capacity of 78,000, a ruling which contravenes FIFA statutes covering discrimination.
“Iran’s ban on half the population attending football matches has led to women and girls risking arrest, jail, and even their lives to challenge it,” said Minky Worden, HRW’s director of global initiatives.
“Any concessions by FIFA to limit the number of women who can attend stadiums only empowers Iran’s hardliners who have … (kept) discriminatory restrictions in place.”
“For many years, Iran’s football federation and government officials have flouted FIFA’s rules on nondiscrimination through intimidation, arrests, and outright deception. FIFA should be gravely concerned for the safety of Iranian female fans who put themselves at risk by challenging the discriminatory limits on ticket sales and stadium access.”
Other campaigners such as Maryam Shojaei, sister of the Iran’s men’s captain Masoud Shojaei, felt the same way.
“If they propose different quotas of tickets, different gates to go in to and different sections to sit in, they are treating women differently from men,” she was quoted as saying.
“This is discrimination. When authorities have women all in one section, it causes big problems. It puts all the pressure on women to prove that the process to enable them to attend stadiums is okay.”
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