FIFA President Gianni Infantino has spoken—banning women from watching a football match is “unacceptable.” He called for the ban removal.
The driving force behind the call to end the ban was a sad one. Recently, news about a woman football fan, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself afire after being caught sneaking into the stadium dressed as a man. She self-immolated upon learning that she would spend six months in prison for what she did.
This is a clear violation of FIFA’s Article 3, a discriminatory practice policy, that states:
Discrimination of any kind against any country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, 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.
The ban started shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have already called upon the attention of FIFA as the worldwide governing body of football initiate ending the ban.
However, as Infantino noted, FIFA can only hope that the Iranian government would consider allowing women to watch football on stadiums and other public places such as bars and cafes.
Infantino himself has been contacting the Iranian Federation and Iranian authorities regarding the matter. FIFA administration has also done so repeatedly in the past.
In June, FIFA also sent the Iranian Football Federation (FFIRI) a letter requesting a timeline to allow women to buy tickets and watch the World Cup qualifiers happening on October 10.
It is not clear whether the Federation has already responded to the letter or not.
In 2018, women were allowed to participate in a viewing event to celebrate Iran’s participation in the World Cup. The viewing event happened inside Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, and where Khodayari also tried sneaking in March this year.
While this may be seen as progressive, Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director of Amnesty International in the Middle East, asserts that this was just a publicity stunt. There’s nothing meaningful behind the event as it did not lift the ban on women altogether.
Today, Iran was the only country to implement the ban still. Saudi Arabia lifted its ban in the latter part of 2017. It came after a historic royal decree that also allowed women to drive.
It is infuriating enough knowing that the stadiums in Iran would welcome women spectators of other nationalities if the Iranian football club has a game against a Spanish or French club, for instance.
Despite this, the statistics are staggering. First, Iran has the biggest football fan base in Asia. Second, before the Revolution, Iranian women were free to watch football games on stadiums. Third, female fans were also not allowed to watch at cafes.
The second and third issues would stop if the Federation and Iranian government would follow the steps taken by the Saudi Arabian government.
While at it, it was worth noting that women in neighbouring countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Lebanon, and Algeria allowed women to watch on stadiums. However, they also experience cultural barriers.
These women showing passion for football is seen as a sign of masculinity. Thus, female football fans chose to watch a game in secrecy – at home usually.