In the last two weeks, the Iranian Football Federation has sent a handful of female journalists to Azadi Stadium in Tehran to cover Pro League matches. In no other city in Iran are women journalists or photographers allowed to attend. Simultaneously, Tabnak reports that in the coming days, the Federation will launch a special ticket sales system just for women.
These “concessions” come at a time when Tehran is under enormous pressure from FIFA to end sex discrimination in football and let women and girls to watch games in person, as is their right and as they do all over the world. The latest deadline set by the global football body is January 22, when Iran is set to host a 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying match. Failure to meet FIFA’s demands – and to amend its charter by late March in order to permanently separate politics and ideology from Iranian football.
Even Iranian media appeared less than impressed by the latest attempt to placate FIFA. In a report on December 30, 2021, Khabar Online called the token presence of women journalists "selective", and the Ministry of Sports’ behavior "island-like". "Why did many media outlets interested in sending women reporters to the stadium for league games not get to hear about it?" the article huffed. Even after the match, it reported, other outlets were not informed of future opportunities to send their female sports reporters to games.
The tight restrictions on women journalists entering the stadium has also angered their spurned colleagues. “Nothing is more pleasing than the opening up of sports to female journalists,” one female reporter wrote, “but a female reporter is not a puppet to be used in the stadium as a tool. Please do not seek a symbolic presence.”
The “puppets” in this case are understood to have been drawn from the principalist media, and from outlets affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. Masoumeh Pashaei, the female MP for Marand, was also allowed to join them on Monday to watch the match between Persepolis and Traktor. At the end of the game, she expressed hope that one day what she called “the conditions” for women to attend Iranian stadiums would be “arranged”.
The Iranian Football Federation has a history of periodically letting in a select few female journalists, politicians or police officers onto the stands for the benefit of the cameras, while denying the opportunity to the rest of that half of the Iranian population. In November 2017 women police and security forces members even posed as ordinary spectators at an Iran-Bolivia match on the request of the Ministry of Sports.
At the Asian Champions League final in November 2018, Mehdi Taj, the corrupt then-president of the Iranian Football Federation, deployed selected women in Azadi Stadium in a bid to show FIFA boss Gianni Infantino that the doors were open to all. The ruse didn’t work; on the same day, other women and girls were beaten and arrested at the gates for trying to enter. Some of the would-be spectators in question were taken by police to the desert area around Karaj and left there overnight. Less than a year later in September 2019, a young woman named Sahar Khodayari died after setting herself on fire outside a courthouse, where she faced prison time for trying to enter Azadi Stadium.
This time, in another blatant signal to FIFA, the broadcast images of the women journalists and MP at Azadi Stadium came accompanied by the news – reported by Tabnak on Monday – that a ticket sales system especially for women would be “activated” for the Iran-Iraq match in late January.
By means of mitigation, though, Tabnak went on to claim for the first time FIFA would have no problem with the “restriction of spectators” at Azadi Stadium, nor with “the separation of women from men” due to the coronavirus pandemic – inviting the question as to how dividing a large crowd by sex would reduce the spread of a sex-indiscriminate virus. It added that FIFA also understood what it termed “Iran’s cultural issues”. There was no mention of what would happen after the Iran-Iraq game, nor of any of the country’s more than 60 other stadia being opened to women and girls at all.