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FIFA Ultimatum to Iran: Let Women in Stadiums

September 23, 2019
Payam Younesipour
5 min read
President Gianni Infantino. FIFA's recent statement reads: “FIFA’s position is firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches”
President Gianni Infantino. FIFA's recent statement reads: “FIFA’s position is firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches”

In the late hours of Saturday, September 21, the International Football Federation (FIFA) released an official statement demanding that Iranian women be allowed into all stadiums, stipulating that Iran must take practical steps to satisfy this demand starting in October.

The statement followed the football governing body’s visit to Iran, during which a delegation discussed measures to ensure Iran adheres to FIFA guidelines.

After the death of Sahar Khodayari, known as the “Blue Girl”, a woman who set herself on fire in protest against women being banned from stadiums and against her treatment by authorities, FIFA has been under intense pressure to take action against the Islamic Republic’s policy. Notable international figures and the media both criticized FIFA’s passivity when it came to dealing with the Iranian Football Federation.

Khodayari, 29, had been arrested in March 2019 when she tried to enter Azadi Stadium to watch Esteghlal Football Club play the United Arab Emirates team Al Ain. Like many female fans before her, she had protested against the Islamic Republic’s 40-year ban on women entering stadiums. She was held in detention for three days, and after her release, she discovered at the court that she had been sentenced to six months in prison. She set herself on fire in front of the Tehran courthouse in protest and died in hospital on September 6. Officials did not announce her death until September 9.

“On 19 September, a delegation of FIFA experts visited Tehran to discuss measures designed to allow women in Iran to freely attend football matches,” the FIFA statement reads. “The delegation, which was also joined by a representative of the Asian Football Confederation, met with the country’s Deputy Minister of Sport and Youth, and representatives of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) focusing on international relations, security and ticketing matters. The delegation also inspected the Azadi stadium in Tehran, where on 10 October 2019 the national teams of Iran and Cambodia will play a qualification game for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.”

On June 22, sports minister Masoud Soltanifar told the state-owned newspaper Iran-e Varzeshi (“Iran Sports”) that although women would be allowed to watch the Iranian national football team qualification games, they would not be allowed to enter stadiums for Iran’s Pro League competitions.

IranWire contacted the international football federation on August 6 and asked: “Has FIFA accepted that women can only attend stadiums in Iran when the national team is playing?” It responded: “As FIFA and its president have repeatedly announced, our goal is that women should be permitted to attend all football games in Iran. We are still engaged in negotiations over this very important issue with the Iranian government and Football Federation officials. Through these talks we want to be certain that Iranian women can be present at stadiums in the [World Cup] qualifying games that start in October.”


A Change in Attitude

The new statement’s language is more assertive. “In these productive discussions, FIFA reiterated its firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely and that the number of women who attend the stadiums be determined by the demand, resulting in ticket sales,” it reads.

This is by far the strongest pronouncement FIFA has made with regards to Iranian women being present at stadiums. According to it, Iran must open all stadium to women, the sports ministry must abandon its previous regulations, and the football federation will have to stop its practice of setting aside only five or 10 percent of its tickets for sale to women for the games it decided they were allowed to watch. “The inspections on site showed that there are no noteworthy operational obstacles to these measures being implemented at the Azadi stadium, starting with the game on 10 October 2019,” FIFA’s statement announced. “In that respect, the delegation also discussed the detailed ticketing procedures as well as operational procedures required and in line with relevant FIFA regulations.”

The statement presented even more hope for Iranian women: “Furthermore, the delegation discussed the need to open stadiums for women to attend national matches. In that respect, FIFA announced that it will, based on the operational plans and results of the 10 October 2019 game, collaborate with the FFIRI in developing an operational protocol and related requirements for matches in the Iranian football league to be opened for women as well.”

This means that from October 10 Iranian women should be able to enter stadiums to watch all football games, not only those played by the national team.

The last two paragraphs of the statement makes this point forcefully clear: “FIFA will continue to engage closely with the FFIRI and relevant government entities to implement these important changes in accordance with FIFA regulations. FIFA’s position is firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.” [Emphasis added.]

This should be the end to Iranian football officials’  longstanding lie that FIFA had agreed that woman would be allowed into stadiums only to watch games played by the national football team and not all games. 

But will FIFA take action if Iran refuses to comply with its firmly-worded demands? It appears as though recent pressures on FIFA, especially those following the death of the “Blue Girl,” have finally forced the international federation to be more formidable, but it remains to be seen whether it will take further steps if Iran ignores what FIFA has so clearly stipulated. 


Related Coverage:

A Dutch Woman's Frightening Ordeal at an Iranian Stadium, September 16, 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

150 Female Fans Allowed into Azadi Stadium, October 19, 2018

Ayatollah Gives Thumbs Down to Women in Stadiums, December 12, 2017




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