FIFA has guaranteed that Iranian women will attend football matches, starting with a World Cup qualifier next month. The sporting body assured female fans that it would not stand for anything less than equal opportunity. 

Iran’s 10 October World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, the pending home game was critical for Iran to qualify for the 2022 competition in Qatar. 

This has resulted in a policy change where the Iranian government has agreed to allow female fan to watch the sport in stadiums.

FIFA’s announcement comes as a shocking revelation relating to the death of a female spectator earlier this month. Sahar Khodayari, a young female university graduate and football fan died on the 8th of September after being arrested for trying to go to a match disguised as a man to pursue her love for football. 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino commented about the abhorrent ban, stating that he would have frank discussions with Iranian authorities.

“We need to have women attending – we need to push for that with respect but in a strong and forceful way and we cannot wait any more,” Mr Infantino told a FIFA women’s conference.

Moreover, participation also has discrimination attached to it, with foreign women often being allowed access to stadiums at the expense of Iranian women.

He acknowledges that ensuring female participation in Iranian football has been historically precarious.

The ban was temporarily lifted last year to allow women to watch the World Cup at a stadium in Tehran. Sadly, female attendance has been denied ever since. Iran is the only country in the world that outlaws and punishes women seeking to enter football stadiums.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan which have had a checkered past on female participation. In Saudi Arabia, women were recently allowed to attend matches under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authority. Whilst, Iran’s neighbour Afghanistan suffered similar parallels in the late 1990s under the repressive regime of the Taliban, where sports stadiums were used for public executions.

Sahar Khodayari set herself alight after being charged for trying to enter a football stadium. Source: Twitter.

This is not the first time that FIFA has become embroiled in controversy over female engagement in Iranian football. In 2011, Iranian women’s national football team were prohibited from an Olympic qualifier due to their donning of the headscarf. 

Regrettably, the female team forfeited the game against Jordan when pressured, as they did not want to play without wearing their religious head-covering.

Khodayari’s self-immolation has prompted international condemnation, with human rights groups calling for a policy change on the discriminatory ban on gender. Amnesty International released a solemn statement of the appalling state of contempt for women’s rights in the country.

“(Sahar Khodayari’s)…only ‘crime’ was being a woman in a country where women face discrimination that is entrenched in law and plays out in the most horrific ways imaginable in every area of their lives, even sports,” said Amnesty International.

Iran fans hold a sign calling for Iranian women to be let into sports stadiums in Iran during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. (Photo by Lukasz Laskowski/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images).

To make matters worse, it has been reported that Khodayari was suffering from bipolar disorder. It certainly was no consolation that her father noted that she had stopped taking medication a year ago.

Woefully, Sahar Khodayari has been dubbed “Blue Girl” for her admiration for her favourite team Esteghlal colours. Khodayari’s tragic death has aroused fierce indignation after she set herself on fire outside a court due to fears of her jail sentence. 

Across the world, widespread grief and outraged football players and fans have been paid tribute to Ms Khodayari include European women’s team FC Cologne that wore blue armbands in her memory. 

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Ali Karimi, a leading Iranian footballer in the country has been a vocal advocate of ending the ban on women and has urged Iranians men to show their sympathy with the “blue girl” by boycotting football stadiums in protest. 

FIFA itself has faced growing criticism with calls for the sporting body to suspend or ban Iran’s football federation. 

Iranian clerics have cited their interpretation of Islamic law, believing in segregating men and women at public events, as well as keeping women out of so-called ‘men’s sports’.

There have been no official reports of Khodayari’s death from Iranian state media, whilst some politicians have voiced their perturbed sorrow.

Emboldened female lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri defiantly remarked that Khodayari is “Iran’s Girl”, boldly tweeting that “(As a nation,)… we are all responsible.”