Iran not only banned women from attending the last 2022 World Cup football qualifying match Tuesday, March 29 but also violently attacked women who protested this.
The Iranian national football team defeated the Lebanese national team 2-0 in its last match of the World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday. More than 2,000 women had bought tickets to watch the match, but were not only prevented from entering the stadium but were greeted with pepper spray.
The protesting women showed their tickets and said in interviews with the media that they had been waiting in line for hours to enter the stadium. The sales of tickets to the women made them believe in the promise that they are permitted to watch the football match between Iran and Lebanon.
Videos have been published (+) on social media that show pepper spray use in front of the Mashhad stadium and women in tears trying to relief the effects of the spray.
Last year, FIFA had warned Iran that according to Iran’s international obligations and in accordance with the policies of the International Federation, women should be allowed to enter the football match stadiums equally with men (+).
Call for FIFA’s Intervention
After violently preventing the presence of women spectators in Iran’s final match in the World Cup qualifiers, a wave of protests took over Persian social media.
The hashtag #prohibition_of_women_entering_to_the_stadium (#ممنوعیت_ورود_زنان_به_ورزشگاه) has quickly become one of the Persian Twitter trends. Naeimeh Doustdar, a women’s rights activist and journalist with Zamaneh, has called for a response from men, including male football players, to stand against gender discrimination in sports. She writes:
“Iranian football men and male football fans are not willing to take the slightest practical action to protest the #ban on_women_entering_to_the_sports (yes, with exceptions).”
In another tweet, she protested the reaction of the government reformists, calling their response to this violence, “impudent.”
Golnaz Esfandiari, an Iranian journalist shared two pictures of police officers blocking women to enter the stadium and writes:
“This is how women were treated in Mashhad for wanting to enter a stadium to cheer Iran’s national soccer team”.
Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, an Iranian-American journalist shared a document signed by the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, stating that he is against allowing women for watching men’s sports.
He then writes:
“All the official reactions of the officials of the Islamic Republic to prevent the entry of #women into the stadium that we are witnessing today is a show to prevent the possible punishment of #FIFA and to say “who was who, who were not we”! It is a stadium and its document was published some time ago”.
Many Iranian users are targeting FIFA and asking for banning their own national football team from the next World Cup. A user shared his picture at the stadium while holding a banner calling FIFA’s attention to the absence of women in the stadium. Despite these efforts, it is uncertain how FIFA’s officials would react to this happening.
Iranian Officials’ Denial
Jafar Montazeri, the Attorney General, commented on the Mashhad incident on Wednesday, March 30 stating that tickets should not have been sold:
“If the conditions were not ready and it was not possible to let the women into the stadium, the authorities would have had to use their intellect from the beginning and not sell tickets.”
Mehrdad Seraji, a member of the board of directors of the Football Federation, also expressed concern on Twitter about the possibility of banning Iranian football and wrote:
“There is worrying news about the decisions of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation. I have already emphasized that those in the Ministry of Sports who designed the route for the football federation where the tragic events in Mashhad take place must be held accountable for their decisions today”.
Mojtaba Tavangar, a member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, wrote on Twitter:
“The girls bought tickets to watch football, but their share became pepper spray! These measures have no result other than cutting costs inside and outside. At the first opportunity, I will register an inquiry to the Minister of Sports. They must be responsible for this incident. If you cannot do your duty in the circuit of the law, you better go!”
Another member of parliament, Jalal Rashidi Kochi, also tweeted:
“I will ask my question about the bitter events in Mashhad Stadium. Once and for all, these disgraceful behaviors, which destroy trust and provide a pretext for counter-revolution, must be stopped forever”.
Following these reactions, the Iranian Football Federation issued a statement denying everything. The statement from the Football Federation reads:
“None of the officials of the Football Federation invited women interested in football to buy tickets to watch this match in the holy city of Mashhad, and even the efforts made for the presence of women in the stadium were aimed at providing free tickets and provided appropriate conditions and infrastructure. It did not happen”.
The Football Federation emphasized (+):
“It would have been impossible and critical for women to enter such a situation without the necessary context, as well as anticipation and the possibility of ticket sales”.
The International Football Association (FIFA) has repeatedly warned the Islamic Republic against the ban on the presence of women in Iran’s stadiums.
The Iranian Football Federation rejcts this warning and states that they are not against women’s attendance in the stadiums. Hassan Kamranifar, the secretary-general of the federation, said the Football Federation is for the presence of women in the game “in according to the emphasis made by FIFA”.
Following Kamranifar’s remarks and after the Iran-Lebanon match, Ali Akbar Hashemi Javaheri, Director General of the Khorasan Razavi Department of Sports and Youth, stated that the ban on women was about religious issues:
“Given that Mashhad is the cultural base of the Islamic and Shiite worlds, some issues had to be anticipated.”
Hashemi Javaheri adds that the decisions were made in Tehran:
“We were the executors of the decisions that were taken from Tehran. We and the Provincial Security Council all listened to the order and carried out the orders that came from Tehran.”
Iranian Women Struggle for Equal Rights: the White Scarf Campaign
According to article four of the FIFA policies, any discrimination against people because of gender is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion”.
Iranian women have been long trying to enforce this policy. One of the significant events that focused on women’s rights to enter the football stadium is the “white-scarf campaign”. The campaign was founded in 2005 by some activists to reclaim the right of women who loved soccer and feel the desire to go to the stadium.
On June 9, 2005, women activists gathered in front of Tehran’s Azadi football Stadium organized under the “White Scarf Campaign” and tried to enter the stadium and watch the Iran-Bahrain match. Reportedly there were between 200 to 500 women who tried to enter the stadium and some of them achieved this. However, some women were also denied or detained in the process.
This campaign with the slogan “Women’s Right, Half Freedom” (the White Scarf Campaign) was one of the first determined efforts by women to enter the stadiums. An Iranian film director, Jafar Panahi, shot his award-winning film, Offside, during the same game. Panahi in that film demonstrated the issues that prevent women from entering the football stadium. His film, however, has never been allowed to be screened in Iran.