The fifth week of the Iran Pro League saw football stadium bosses across Iran revert to type and bar female fans and would-be spectators from entry. On Monday, no fewer than seven matches took place across the country, including in Tehran, Isfahan, Arak and Ahvaz, with half of those who might have wanted to watch them excluded because of their sex.
On Tuesday at Azadi Stadium, the main venue in Tehran where matches are under a higher degree of public and international scrutiny from bodies like FIFA, a limited number of women were allowed in to watch the Esteghlal v Peykan game. As usual, they were directed to a special enclosure away from the much larger crowd of men.
Iranwire has learned that Ansieh Khazali, Ebrahim Raisi’s vice-president for women’s affairs, requested a blanket ban on photography and filming from the women’s section, then ordered that female spectators be moved up to the second floor. The Football Federation’s security division and Azadi Stadium management duly implemented both.
It came on the same day as Mehdi Taj, the newly re-elected president of the Federation, warned board members that FIFA might suspend Iran if past grift allegations against him were formally investigated by the Iranian judiciary.
The Allegations Against Mehdi Taj
According to official Iranian news agencies, six days before the Football Federation’s board of directors election last Tuesday, Tehran Prosecutor’s Office wrote to both the Federation and the Ministry of Sports and Youth regarding the extensive reports of financial wrongdoing by Mehdi Taj it had received to date. They relate to incidents during his previous tenure as Federation president, from 2016 to 2019.
The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that among the complaints were such accusations as “abuse of job position", "use of fake documents", "falsification of reports”, forgery (listed as a separate offence), “illegal use of government property", "unauthorized use of Federation financial resources", "negligence leading to the loss of public funds in the amount of more than 10 million euros", "disruption to the monetary and currency system of the country", fraud, and "collusion in government transactions".
Taj and media outlets close to him have spent the past few days trying to convince anyone who will listen that any further digging might compel FIFA to suspend Iran ahead of the World Cup. Taj only publicly threw his hat into the ring for re-election at the eleventh hour, making some keener observers wonder if evading criminal investigation was, in fact, his primary motive for doing so.
FIFA on Women
Apart from managing the operation of football games worldwide, FIFA has global human rights principles embedded into its statutes. Specifically in the third section, the charter states: "FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights."
The first part of the fourth section, on "Non-discrimination, equality and neutrality", goes on to state: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion."
This ought obviously to apply to the Islamic Republic’s known policy of excluding women and girls from football matches at stadia across the country, which dates back to the 1980s. To date, FIFA has not moved to suspend or expel Iran, or implemented any other punitive measure. The world football body has also ignored the most recent reports of sex discrimination in Iranian football since the countdown to the World Cup began this summer.
FIFA on Financial Malpractice
The FIFA statutes also include provisions for dealing with corrupt behavior by football managers. High-ranking managers in any member country, as ISNA News Agency summarized on August 5, “must appear completely honest and beyond suspicion under any circumstances… In the absence of honesty on the part of high-ranking officials, serious doubts will arise in the minds of stakeholders and the general public about the integrity and honesty of football organizations. This public lack of trust quickly translates into public perception of the validity of sports results and destroys the essence of sport.”
In one of its many formal letters to Iran down the years, FIFA clarified that were any football boss to receive a criminal conviction or disciplinary punishment in relation to financial crimes “not compatible with the performance of FIFA committees”, the country in question could again be disqualified from contests.
In the run-up to a major tournament, then, the Iranian Football Federation is openly violating two supposed red lines set by the world’s foremost football association. Bosses in Iran only appear to be concerned by one of these, and only insofar as it will provide them with judicial leverage at home. To date FIFA has given them no reason to behave otherwise.