In the last week of July, it was widely reported in Iran that Minister of Sports and Youth Hamid Sajjadi had received a letter from FIFA regarding women and girls being admitted to football matches. Sajjadi did not deny the letter, but went on the record saying FIFA’s message had been a request, “not a requirement”.
Last week, however, it transpired that the tone of FIFA’s letter had been more imperative than that. As a consequence, the Iranian Football Federation under acting president Mirshad Majedi sprang into action. The latest in a seemingly never-ending carousel of gestures to placate FIFA was the claim that some 500 women could watch a Pro League match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman on Thursday.
The announcement comes barely a week after it was stated that Pro League matches would proceed behind closed doors, without spectators this season (itself a pretext on which to keep women out). Announcing the about-turn, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: "There is no obstacle to their [women’s] presence, but the condition is that the stadiums be ready. It takes time for preparations to be made.”
The “preparation” for this match, informed sources told IranWire, will include extreme vetting and pre-approval of female ticketholders to the exclusion of any and all ordinary fans. Mostafa Ajorlou, an IRGC commander and the CEO of Esteghlal FC, will oversee this effort after being invited to do so by the Federation’s Majedi.
The 500 are understood to be drawn mainly from Iran’s security forces and the police. A smaller number will be female football players from provincial teams together with their coaches. Women trying to buy tickets online will be asked to input their national ID number, thereby allowing the system to filter out all but the chosen few.
There is no intention to allow regular female fans to watch the Pro League. Supposed “technical errors” on ticket sales websites have locked Iranian women out of matches in the past. On other occasions, they have been greeted by “Sold Out” messages on going to on the women’s section of the website. Elsewhere tickets were sold but officials then alleged mass ticket fraud, using this as the pretext, for instance, to pepper-spray women and girls who tried to get into a game in Mashhad earlier this year.
The latest ploy is just a little more complex, but will have the same result. A handful of token women will be present at Thursday’s match, lavished with attention by state-controlled media, and present in innumerate, demonstrative photos as a feather in the cap of the Raisi administration. All other women and girls will remain locked outside. It seems unbelievable that FIFA is not aware of this ruse, but if it is, the question remains as to why the world footballing body still hasn’t taken action.