FIFA’s demands were very clear. On September 21, the International Football Federation posted a statement on its website regarding its representatives’ visit to Iran “to discuss measures designed to allow women in Iran to freely attend football matches.”
“FIFA reiterated its firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely,” the statement announced, specifying October 10 — when Iran’s national team faces Cambodia in a World Cup qualifying game — as the start date for meeting this demand.
Equally important, however, was another point FIFA made: The “number of women who attend the stadiums [must] be determined by the demand, resulting in ticket sales,” meaning that FIFA would not accept Iran assigning a quota for the number of female spectators, or a process of handpicking them, which Iranian officials have done in the past.
Unsurprisingly, however, the doors of the stadiums have essentially remained closed to Iranian women, or at least not been open to them in the way that FIFA wants and to which Iran has agreed. On Thursday, October 3, when the tickets for the game between Iran and Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium went on sale, it was very clear that FIFA’s demands had been ignored.
At first, the Iranian Football Federation had set aside a stand allocating around 860 seats to women. A few hours later, after women rushed to buy the tickets, another stand was also set aside, bringing the total number of seats for women to close to 1,400.
But during the tickets sales, something astonishing began to happen. If an Iranian woman wanted to buy a ticket for an empty seat at the stadium, suddenly the seat was flagged as being “reserved” while she was in the process of paying for it. The ticketing systems did not show that the seat had actually been sold to somebody else.
By the afternoon of Monday, October 7, the football federation had set aside four rows with 3,700 seats for women, but it had not sold tickets for 1,000 seats out of this number. An employee of the Iranian Football Federation told IranWire that those 1,000 seats were for handpicked women — women footballers from the national team and football clubs and employees of the federation and the sports ministry. In other words, the federation is continuing its practice of selecting specific women to attend the stadium.
On Monday, the Iranian Football Federation began talks with Tehran Province’s Security Council to set aside another row for female spectators, and it appeared that the number of women who would be able to attend the game on October 10 would be close to the same number that was earlier announced by sports minister Masoud Soltanifar — 4,500.
Women journalists Banned
Another astonishing development was the federation’s refusal to issue press cards to female reporters and photojournalists so they could enter Azadi Stadium. “We were told by the federation that we must buy tickets in order to get into the stadium,” an Iranian female reporter who had applied for a press card told IranWire. “They said that they would not give press ID cards for women.”
“Is lifting the ban on women only for spectators?” she asked FIFA. “Iran cannot keep out Iranian women reporters and photographers,” FIFA responded. “Write again to the Iranian federation and keep us informed.”
Youri Djorkaeff, the retired star of the French national football team, is scheduled to travel to Iran and attend Azadi Stadium on October 10 to supervise the process of women spectators entering the stadium.
IranWire asked FIFA about the presence of women at Azadi Stadium. We asked about FIFA’s position regarding female reporters and photojournalists. And we asked about the number of seats for women and Iranian women’s demands for tickets.
“Regarding media accreditation for the upcoming qualifier match between Iran and Cambodia, we are in contact with the Iranian Football Federation, which is responsible for handling the respective requests,” responded a FIFA spokesman. “For FIFA it’s important that media representatives willing to cover the preliminary competition of the FIFA World Cup 2022 have the opportunity to do so while benefitting from media facilities and services that meet the required standards.”
So the Iranian Football Federation’s practice of banning female journalists from the game on October 10 is a violation of FIFA’s rules. “On your second question, we reaffirm our position that the number of women in the stadium needs to be determined by the demand for such tickets, without any arbitrary limitation being imposed,” wrote FIFA’s spokesman.
But the Iranian Football Federation is no longer selling tickets to women and is not allowing female journalists to cover the game. The regime and the government have allowed women into stadiums — for now at least — so the responsibility rests with Mehdi Taj, the federation president. What he is doing can only result in a self-inflicted wound to Iranian football.
Iran: Stadium Seating Cap Endangers Women, October 5, 2019
The World Reacts to the Tragic Death of the “Blue Girl”, September 26, 2019
FIFA Ultimatum to Iran: Let Women in Stadiums, September 23, 2019
FIFA Responds to IranWire about the Death of the “Blue Girl”, September 10, 2019
Woman Who Set Herself on Fire Dies, September 9, 2019
“The Blue Girl” Who Set Herself on Fire — And the Angry Backlash, September 9, 2019
Banned from Entering Stadium, Young Woman Sets Herself on Fire, September 4, 2019
Iran Attempts to Fool FIFA, August 27, 2019
Iran Jails Female Football Fans, August 16, 2019
Decoding Iran’s Politics: Football and State Interference, June 11, 2019