FIFA President Announces Deadline for Iran to Take “Concrete Steps” to Let Women Into Stadiums
In a letter addressing the chief of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) Mehdi Taj, the president of FIFA announced a July 15, 2019, deadline for Taj to inform him of the “concrete steps” the Iranian government would be taking to lift its ban on women in stadiums by September of this year.
“…I would be very grateful if you could inform FIFA, at your earliest convenience but no later than 15 July 2019, as to the concrete steps which both the FFIRI and the Iranian state authorities will now be taking in order to ensure that all Iranian and foreign women who wish to do so will be allowed to buy tickets and to attend the matches of the Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which will start in September 2019,” wrote FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the letter signed June 18, 2019, that was obtained by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Whilst we are aware of the challenges and cultural sensitivities, we simply have to continue making progress here, not only because we owe it to women all over the world, but also because we have a responsibility to do so, under the most basic principles set out in the FIFA Statutes,” he added.
Infantino did not state what would happen if Iran fails to respond by September.
Iran is the only country in the world that bans women from sports stadiums. The unofficial policy has been backed by religious conservatives and political hardliners in Iran since 1980, a year after the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
The ban, which has been occasionally relaxed but never fully lifted, is a violation of FIFA’s rules for teams that participate in international football events. Article 4 of its statutes states that discrimination of any kind against a group of people is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
Women’s rights activists inside and outside Iran have long called on the Iranian government to lift the discriminatory ban, and have been subjected to harassment and arrests for peacefully protesting against it.
In June 2019, an unknown number of women were blocked from entering Azadi Stadium to watch a match between men’s teams from Iran and Syria. Witnesses told CHRI that some of those women were physically assaulted by security forces.
In March 2018, 35 women were arrested outside Azadi Stadium for trying to attend a match between two Iranian men’s teams that was attended by FIFA President Infantino and President Hassan Rouhani.
While celebrities in the country are often reluctant to speak out against politically sensitive issues in the country due to the threat of arrest and imprisonment, in October 2018 Iranian national team soccer player Hossein Mahini tweeted his support for the “Let Women In” campaign.
“Hoping for the day when half of Azadi [Stadium in Tehran] will be yours,” tweeted Mahini, a member of Iran’s Team Melli.
In November 2018, FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board published a report recommending that FIFA be “explicit about the timeframe in which it expects its Member Association [Iran] to align with FIFA’s human rights expectations and the anticipated sanctions if it does not, including under the FIFA Statutes, Disciplinary Code and Ethics Code.”
The Open Stadiums campaign, which describes itself as a “movement of Iranian women seeking to end discrimination and let women enter stadiums,” welcomed the board’s recommendations on Iran as a “great achievement for Iranian female football fans who insisted for their right to enter to stadiums for more than 13 years.”