FIFA President Gianni Infantino. REUTERS

 – FIFA President Gianni Infantino believes the global governing body’s policy of engagement with Iran over the treatment of women in football is bearing fruit after some were allowed into the Tehran derby on Thursday.

Women’s rights campaigners Open Stadiums and another group of former Iranian athletes last year called on FIFA to ban Iran from the World Cup because of the continued exclusion of women from football matches.

Infantino has instead favoured a policy of personal engagement with the Islamic republic and welcomed the news that women had been allowed into Thursday’s Iran Pro League match as a sign of its success.

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“In September, I had the pleasure of meeting Iran President Ebrahim Raisi in New York City, where we discussed the development of women’s football in the country and progress made regarding the presence of women in football stadiums,” he said in a statement released on social media.

“It was, therefore, with great delight that I learned around 3,000 women attended the Tehran derby between Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC today.

“Thanks to the ongoing dialogue between FIFA and the Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation, progress is being made.”

Under pressure from Infantino, a small group of female fans were granted access to Persepolis’s home leg of the 2018 Asian Champions League final in Tehran.

There has been minimal progress since, with female fans barred from entering Iran’s World Cup qualifying game against Lebanon in Mashhad in March 2022, after which video emerged of female supporters being pepper-sprayed outside the stadium.

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The calls to ban Iran from the World Cup came against the backdrop of mass protests across the country in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini while she was in the custody of the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code.

Infantino said he would be travelling to Iran in the near future and would again meet President Raisi “to further discuss football-related matters”.

“Iran is a significant force in Asian football and it is important that we continue to nurture the positive and fruitful working relationship we have built,” the Swiss added.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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