Journalist Confronts FIFA President Over Iran’s Ban on Women in Stadiums: “It’s Our Right”
Gianni Infantino Visited Iran to Discuss Ban, Says Tehran Newspaper
Thirty-five women who went to Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch a match between two popular soccer teams were detained by police on March 1, 2018, and held for several hours, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
Female journalist Niloofar Hamedi, who was at the scene, directly confronted FIFA President Gianni Infantino outside the stadium as shown in a video posted on her Twitter account.
“We need a guarantee. It’s our right,” Hamedi is heard saying as Infantino is whisked away.
The Hamshahri newspaper, which is published by the Tehran municipality, had previously reported that the FIFA chief was visiting Tehran primarily to discuss the ban.
“According to information we have received, Infantino’s most important motivation for traveling to Iran is to resolve the ban on women in football stadiums but the Iranian Football Federation doesn’t want the media to find out about it,” said a column in Hamshahri on February 25, 2018.
Infantino met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani before the game and “was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon,” said Infantino during a FIFA event at its headquarters in Zurich on March 2.
“He told me that in countries such as [Iran], these things take a bit of time,” he added.
Female Fans Detained Outside Stadium
The annual soccer derby between the Persepolis and Esteghlal teams that occurred on March 1 in Tehran attracted a huge crowd, as it has in the past. Women fans also came out to express support despite being barred from watching male sports teams compete in stadiums and other arenas in Iran.
“A few hours before the match, a number of girls and lady football [soccer] fans, who tried to enter the stadium in boys’ outfits were detained by agents who led them outside the stadium,” the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported on March 1.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Salman Samani confirmed the report but insisted that the women had not been detained. They were only “directed to a suitable location” until the match ended, he said.
But according to reports on social media, the so-called “suitable location” was in fact the Vozara Detention Center in the capital.
“We went to the entrance at Azadi Stadium even though we knew they would not let us in,” tweeted the journalist who confronted the FIFA chief.
“We just wanted to take a group picture for posterity,” added Hamedi. “But the agents warned us that they would arrest us. So as we started walking on the side of the road, the Vice Police followed us and wanted to force us into their van. A motorcyclist saved me. I don’t know what happened to my friends.”
Morality or vice police in Iran are referred to in Farsi as Ershad, meaning guidance. In addition to breaking up non-state-sanctioned mixed-gender parties and couples or friends who appear in public without a marriage license, they can also detain women and men accused of failing to adhere to the Islamic Republic’s obligatory dress code.
Mira Ghorbanifar, the deputy editor-in-chief of the Ghanoon newspaper, tweeted, “Reports indicate that women who were in front and around the stadium remain in detention. The detainees are being transferred to the Vozara [Detention Center in Tehran]. The strange thing is that their relatives have been told that if they want them released they have to bring them proper clothes.”
The detainees were released after a few hours.
“One by one, two by two, those who had been detained in front of the stadium are coming out of the Vozara Detention Center,” tweeted journalist Ali Malihi on March 1.
“Fortunately all the girls detained behind the gates of Azadi Stadium have been freed,” tweeted Member of Parliament Tayebeh Siavashi.
President Rouhani had promised former FIFA President Sepp Blatter that the state’s ban on women in stadiums would be lifted more than four years ago.
“When I traveled to Iran in November 2013, I was not only confronted with huge popular enthusiasm from football but also a law forbidding women from attending football matches,” wrote Blatter in FIFA’s weekly magazine in March 2015.
“I raised the topic at my meeting with the President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, and came away with the impression that this intolerable situation could change over the medium term,” he added. “However, nothing has happened. A collective ‘stadium ban’ still applies to women in Iran, despite the existence of a thriving women’s football organization.”
Parvaneh Salahshouri, the leader of the Women’s Block in Iran’s Parliament, complained in an interview with Etemaad Online on March 1 about the foreign attention the stadium ban has attracted.
“Unfortunately, the women’s demand to enter sports arenas has become a club above the Islamic Republic’s head,” she said. “In other words, it’s upsetting that foreigners and enemies of the Islamic Republic use this issue to say women in Iran have no freedom.”
“I don’t know why we go to such lengths to create excuses for our critics when we can easily create space for women,” added the reformist MP. “I don’t understand the reason for being so strict with the people.”
The day before the match in Tehran, a letter was shared on social media of an alleged request from President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi on behalf of the president requesting that Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar “facilitate the presence of women, given the general public’s interest in this match.”
The Sports Ministry claimed the letter is fake and denied ever receiving it. The president’s office has not commented on the letter’s authenticity.
In June 2017, less than a month after Rouhani’s re-election, the ban on women in stadiums was slightly relaxed to allow the female relatives of members of the Iranian men’s volleyball team to watch a match against Belgium at the Azadi indoor arena in Tehran.