In-Depth Coverage: Female Iranian Football Fans get FIFA to referee for them with the Khomeinist regime

But will it last?

By AIW Staff

Since its inception, the Khomeiniist regime has repeatedly resorted to fraudulent displays of “reform” away from, and “relaxation” of, its Islamist core values when confronted with pressure from abroad. Once the pressure is reduced, or the perceived danger has passed, the regime quickly cracks down and reverts to its true nature. The event that occurred on Thursday, which the international media billed as the first time Iranian women were allowed to attend a sporting event in decades, was another such fraudulent display.

For many years, Iranian women have done everything in their power to get the international community to take notice of the Khomeinist regime’s refusal to permit them to enter football stadiums, watch the matches, and cheer on their favorite teams. The international body governing the sport, FIFA, however, remained aloof to their situation, and other than offering a few flaky platitudes, did nothing to exert pressure on Tehran to allow women their right to enjoy sports.  In one egregious example of this, in March 2018, Gianni Infantino, the head of FIFA, was present at a match in Tehran while women were being arrested outside the stadium for trying to sneak in dressed in men’s clothing. Only after an Iranian woman, Sahar Khodayari, the famous “Blue Girl,” set herself on fire last month to avoid going to prison for defying the regime’s ban on women’s participation in spectator sports, did the world finally raise ire against Tehran’s misogyny. A delegation from FIFA visited Iran at the end of September, and threatened to expel Iran from international competitions if women weren’t allowed in stadiums.

Now, the world celebrates what is being promoted as Iranian women being allowed to enter a stadium for the first time in decades, on October 10th, to see their national team beat Cambodia. Unfortunately, though, as the eyewitness testimonies and images displayed below reveal, this was only another of the regime’s many staged, deceptive spectacles.

The Setting

Tehran’s Azadi (formerly Aryamehr) Stadium seats 78,000 people. Thursday’s match attendance was well below capacity, with only 2,500 men buying tickets, as can be seen in the many noticeably empty seats in videos of the crowds. However, the number of women allowed to enter the venue was restricted to only 3,000. Tickets for women only went on sale one day before the match, and quickly sold out. Women took to social media to complain about this, using the hashtag #WakeUpFIFA to draw attention to the continuing discrimination.

Many thousands of women who were unable to obtain tickets to the match waited outside the stadium, hoping that they would be allowed in.

The women outside chanted the phrase “3.5%” and drew it on the ground, to protest the token amount of space they were being provided.

Women attendees were forced to enter the stadium separately from the men, and were restricted to four sections of the stadium’s boxes, which were sealed off from the rest of it by iron bars. The women described this arrangement as being in a cage.

Iranian female football fans fenced in
Fences being build in preparation for the Iran-Cambodia football match which would be specifically for women

Female photographers and journalists were also denied permission to cover the event.

Due to the strangely limited number of men attending, and available tickets for all, some Iranians questioned whether the whole match itself was being staged by the regime simply to show FIFA that women being were allowed to watch.

The Repression and Restrictions Inside the Stadium

One inside, the women were faced with 150 Basij members, a ratio of one Basij per 20 fans, who ordered them not to chant slogans about The Blue Girl.

One woman dared, however, lift up a poster reading “Blue Girl, your name will live forever,” and was immediately arrested.

Another woman held up a sign in English demanding full access for women to attend all matches, not just those of the national team.

Despite the Basij’s attempts to control the situation, the women rallied and all began chanting slogans of admiration for the Blue Girl.

Other women attendees mentioned being closely watched, and beaten, by the Basij.

At the end of the match, the national team’s captain, Massoud Shojaei, went up to the women’s area with his teammates and personally thanked the female fans for coming. Shojaei’s sister, Maryam, has been a leading advocate for letting women attend sporting events.

Religious Vigilantes Outside
A flyer plastered around Tehran after the regime announced that FIFA’s pressure had resulted in women being permitted to attend the football match. The flyer reads: “In connection with the Supreme Leader’s fatwa and that of the sources of imitation (meaning all grand Ayatollahs) regarding the ENTRANCE OF WOMEN INTO SPORTS ARENAS, is going to be carried out. Date: October 7t, 2019 (Iranian calendar the 15th of the month of Mehr, 1398)” signed — People’s Organization for Knowledge and Avoiding Sin (Amr’eh beh ma’aroof, nahi’ie az monker)

More than 100 members of the a religiously sanctioned vigilante group entitled People’s Organization for Knowledge and Avoiding Sin (Amr’eh beh ma’aroof, nahi’ie az monker) made up of pro-regime fanatic Islamists known, among other crimes and social misconduct, for making violent demonstrations against women’s rights, held a protest outside the Islamic Parliament (Majles) against even a small group of women being allowed to attend a match. For a week, the group had been passing out flyers condemning the limited attendance permission that regime officials had granted, and attempting to persuade women to not go to the match. The fact that only a few men showed up to this long-planned protest was taken by Iranians as proof that Khomeinist misogyny only has a tiny constituency within the country these days.

The Struggle Continues

Iranians were not fooled by this one-day show. Maryam Shojaei was one of the first activists to say, “This is not what we fought for.”

Other activists expertly argued that regime apologists in the west made that the October 10th match somehow represented “progress” for Iranian women, while bringing attention to the reality that women in Iran are still imprisoned for visiting stadiums.

Amnesty International also condemned what it called a “half-hearted” move by regime officials, calling for a full repeal of the ban on women.

FIFA has long claimed to be working for equal rights for all to attend its events, but Iranians remember just how hypocritical FIFA officials can be. Thursday’s stunt only came about after an international outcry for Sahar Khodayari. Will FIFA continue to pressure the regime, or will things return to business as usual as consciousness of Sahar’s death fades from public attention?