Yesterday the news website Tarafdari shared a video of a young Sepahan FC fan who stuck outside the gates of Isfahan’s Fouladshahr Stadium as a match between Sepahan and Zob-e Ahan kicked off inside. Swathed in the club’s black and yellow flag, the distraught interviewee said: “I really don’t see why this enmity has to continue. Why should we be left outside with lumps in our throats like this?”
The reason this person was unable to watch an important Persian Gulf Pro League game was she happened to be female. Other women and girls, too, were turned away from the match. “I hope my favorite team will achieve a lot here today,” the fan said. “This is the whole-hearted wish of all Sepahan fans, especially the women.
“I don’t know why they let some women into the stadium in Tehran, but they don’t let us in here. Even if we stand on the stadium precincts they come and question us; they say women shouldn’t be here.”
The reality is that at no point in the past 40 years has the government of Iran reversed its policy of barring women from attending football matches, in Tehran or elsewhere. On occasion, a controlled number of female fans have been allowed onto the stands of the flagship Azadi Stadium, usually at the point when this continued violation of the FIFA charter has caught global attention. But then the status quo is reestablished.
In late August, around 2,000 women were allowed into the nearly 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium to watch the Esteghlal v Mes Kerman game from a special enclosure. This was hailed as a victory by those who were granted entry.
On Monday this week, seven matches took place in Iran’s Foolad Shahr, Vatani, Khomeini, Dastgerdi, Ghasem Soleimani, Takhti, and Foolad Arena Stadiums. Women and girls, including Persepolis fans at Dastgerdi, were denied entry to all of them.
Since 2019 the Iranian Football Federation’s placatory messaging has claimed football venues “lack the necessary infrastructure” to allow women in. The Federation has never explained what special infrastructure is required for female ticket-holders to pass through a gate and sit down compared to their male counterparts.
No time-frame has been set for this “infrastructural” issue to be addressed either. And although sex discrimination against fans by a member country is potential grounds for suspension or expulsion, FIFA has persistently failed to intervene, despite all the evidence put before the world football body in the past few years.
Mehdi Taj, who was president of the Federation from 2016 to 2019, was asked about the matter as far back as 2017. He said bluntly: "The issue of women's entry in stadiums is not our priority." Last week, he again took over the presidency.