Iranian government and sports officials have sought to dampen down the furore after female football fans were again blocked from entering a stadium in Mashhad, and pepper-sprayed at the gates, ahead of Iran’s last World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday.
In an interview with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi claimed that some of the women affected had been sold “counterfeit tickets”, adding: “In one case pepper spray was used, but it is not clear by whom.”
Vahidi said his deputy would be meeting with organizers of the Iran v Lebanon game to establish what had happened. But he then also claimed that 27,000 tickets were sold when only 10,000 people were permitted to watch the game.
“The stadium was filled to capacity,” he said, “and a number of people over capacity had gathered outside. The police had the duty to prevent more people from entering and they did their duty.”
The incident came after repeated warnings from FIFA that all women must be permitted to watch all football matches in Iran, or the Football Federation could face consequences – up to and including, according to FIFA’s charter, a $108m fine or even expulsion.
Speaking to Fars News Agency in the aftermath, Safiollah Faghanpour, head of the Federation’s legal department, confirmed the Federation had received a letter from FIFA. But he claimed it was not related to “a specific subject”.
The letter, Faghanpour asserted, posed “no threat” to Iranian football in general. “A FIFA observer was present during the Iran-Lebanon game and reported the events,” he said. “FIFA has asked for explanations. FIFA is asking: were the obstacles in this game natural and logical?”
He went on to claim that FIFA’s letter had even praised Iranian managers for allowing women to attend a single match between Iran and Cambodia in 2019, which only came about due to the self-immolation of a female fan, Sahar Khodayari.
Had FIFA given Iran a deadline to respond, Faghanpour was asked? “Not at all. No such request has been made in FIFA’s letter. It seems that nothing specific is going to happen at this juncture.”
In response to a request for comment by IranWire, FIFA said it would investigate the event and had asked Iran Football Federation for an explanation.