March 31 – While FIFA president Gianni Infantino was banging the drum for world peace, respect, and the power of football to help unify in times of conflict, news from Iran broke of women being pepper sprayed by Iranian authorities as they turned up for Iran’s final World Cup qualifier.
Human Rights Watch reported that “dozens of Iranian women (were prevented) from entering Imam Reza football stadium in the city of Mashhad on March 29, 2022, possibly using excessive force”.
The NGO called on FIFA to “use its leverage with Iranian authorities to demand that they urgently overturn Iran’s discriminatory stadium ban on women and ensure accountability for abuses.”
Iran had already qualified for Qatar 2022 but were finishing their qualifying matches against Lebanon. Tickets had been bought by women for the match but they were prevented from entering with social media videos showing women at the stadium saying they had been pepper sprayed.
The match in Mashhad had originally been scheduled to be played behind closed doors due to coronavirus regulations, but a late decision allowed tickets to go on sale to fans.
On March 30, the day after the game, the Iranian Football Federation said in a statement that “due to a lack of preparation” they could not accommodate women at the match, that only nine women had purchased tickets and that “fake” tickets were distributed among fans.
“In this short distance (time to organise ticket sales) and in the first official and international experience of Mashhad, it is (im)possible to predict and provide favorable conditions for women to enter the stadium and provide the possibility of safe entry as well as suitable gates, required facilities and special location,” said the Iranian FA statement.
“And even the ticket sales process in the men’s section was difficult to complete within three days due to the announced short deadline with numerous problems and shortcomings. Accordingly, none of the officials of the Football Federation has invited women interested in football to buy tickets to watch this match in the holy city of Mashhad, and even the efforts made for the presence of women in the stadium with the aim of providing free tickets and subject to provision. The conditions and infrastructure were good and did not materialize.”
“Iranian authorities have repeatedly demonstrated they are willing to go to great lengths to enforce their discriminatory and cruel ban on women attending football stadiums,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Given Iranian authorities’ longstanding violations, FIFA needs to follow its own global guidelines on nondiscrimination and should consider enforcing penalties for Iran’s noncompliance.”
In September 2019, a female football fan, Sahar Khodayari, known as the ‘Blue Girl’, was reportedly sentenced to jail for trying to enter a stadium. She was arrested by police trying to enter the main stadium in Teheran to watch her favourite team Esteghal. She later died by self-immolation after she set herself on fire outside the courthouse where she faced charges for “improperly wearing hijab”.
“It is long overdue for FIFA to demonstrate that it is serious in enforcing transparent accountability measures to ensure women in Iran can watch games like their peers all over the world,” said Far.
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