Kayhan London – Authorities in Tehran allowed female football fans to attend a friendly match between the Iranian and Bolivian national teams on October 16 at Azadi Stadium. The move was in response to considerable pressure by Gianni Infantino, the president of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), whose “Equality and Inclusion” campaign aims to fight various types of discrimination against women in sports.
Authorities, however, issued only 200 permits to female spectators, most of whom were members of the Iranian women national football and futsal teams. The rest were family members and friends of the players who had been vetted by the security agencies.
Stadium staff directed all the girls and women through a designated gate which was guarded by police cars and soldiers. Female fans could not sit near male spectators. There were ten rows of empty seats (security zone) on both sides of their assigned section.
Plainclothes female police and security officers monitored the stands, ensuring that women fans stayed in their section. Female security officers wearing the Islamic chador (veil) guarded women’s toilets. The authorities had also assigned a cheerleader, who wore full Islamic hijab, to the female section, whose job was to orchestrate fans’ cheering for the Iranian national team.
Iranian media and newspapers have tried to spin the event as a significant victory for the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “A massive step towards allowing women into sports stadiums,” was the front page headline of the daily Etemad on October 17. Shargh daily’s front page story was “Freedom for Iranian women.” Neither of the two articles, however, offered any substantive proof that the situation for women football fans would drastically improve anytime soon.
It is abundantly clear that authorities had carefully orchestrated and controlled the presence of a limited number of female spectators at the stadium. They have, nevertheless, promised to allow female fans to attend a friendly football match between Iranian and Qatari premier league teams later this year.
Meanwhile, Tehran police earlier released a statement denying that it had issued permits for women to attend the football match.
Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has severely criticized the sports authorities for allowing girls and women to attend the match between the Iranian and Bolivian national teams. He warned: “The decision will have dire moral consequences for our society. There is no religious justification for this measure. We will have to address the problem if the practice continues.”
“We oppose this move because it is sinful,” Mr. Montazeri explained. “There is certainly nothing wrong with watching a football match, but the atmosphere in the stadium could encourage immoral activities. We are Muslims and live in the Islamic Republic. It is wrong and sinful for a woman to watch male athletes in shorts running around on a football pitch.”
Montazeri warned: “We will deal decisively with anyone who is trying to facilitate women’s presence at large stadiums. We cannot dress and behave any way we want in public. We urge our officials to uphold religious values. We will, however, prosecute the sports authorities to the full extent of the law if they persist in their sinful ways.”
Many Iranians have taken to social media to express their thoughts on the presence of female fans at Iran-Bolivia football match.
Someone who was at the match posted the following comments on caffecinema.com, an art and culture news site: “Sometimes in the early afternoon, I found out that the authorities had allowed a select group of girls and women to attend the match. When I entered the stadium, I saw a large group of female police officers posted around the section reserved for female fans. About an hour before the start of the match, the guards allowed 100 women to enter the stands. According to published reports, they were mostly the members of the Iranian women’s national football and futsal teams and their families. They cheered our team during the match. Male spectators were well behaved.”
Negar @ArtLover1367, a women’s rights activist, tweeted: “I’m an ordinary woman who has been fighting for years for our right to attend matches, but at the moment I’m standing outside the stadium’s closed gates.”
Arash Bahmani @ArashBahrami tweeted: “Women’s presence at the sports stadiums is a significant event, but it is meaningless when orchestrated. They have previously staged such shows at other sports events.”
“I wish the members of the women’s national teams hadn’t gone to the match. They should have instead advocated the presence of all women at such events,” tweeted Darya @darya_bidel.
Abtin @deanwiiin wrote: “Don’t let the Islamic Republic fool Iranians and the world in the same way North Korea has done.”
John Luck @john_lucckk tweeted: “The so-called female fans who went to the match didn’t advance women’s rights, but they probably believe that they have paved the way for all women to attend events at sports stadiums.”
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi