February 15, 2019


Stadium gates gradually open for Iranian women (Saeid Jafari, February 14, 2019, Al Monitor)

During his March 2018 trip to Iran, the president of the world soccer governing body FIFA attended the popular derby between Tehran archrivals Persepolis and Esteghlal in the capital. Following the match, Gianni Infantino sat down with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. And back in Zurich the day after, the FIFA chief announced in a presser that his Iranian host had given his word that the ban on women's entry to men's soccer events will be lifted.   

"There are two ways to deal with this matter -- either we criticize, we sanction, we condemn, we don't speak and we cut relations," said Infantino in a soft warning to Iran and other states practicing similar bans. "Or we go there and have a discussion and try to convince the leaders of the country." The FIFA president said that Rouhani, while offering assurances, had also noted that the process would take "a bit of time."

Ever since that meeting in Tehran, several positive steps have been taken toward a settlement of the issue. On June 20, Iran's national team faced Spain in a key match during the FIFA World Cup in Kazan, Russia. In Tehran, the city's iconic Azadi Stadium hosted a screening of the game, which would up being a nail biter. This was the breakthrough. Authorities allowed women to enter the stadium and watch live video of the match on a giant 1,200 square-meter screen. Hours ahead of the game, rumors kept circulating that permission for women to attend had been revoked. But women ended up entering the stadium in relatively large numbers for the first time in nearly four decades of Islamic Republic rule.

Arameh Etemadi, a Tehran-based journalist, was one of the female spectators who made it into the stadium. "I was not actually watching a real soccer game [in person]. But even that was still a thrilling experience, which we as women had been deprived of for years," she told Al-Monitor. While bringing into question the logic behind the ban, Etemadi said she believes the recent small developments paving women's way into stadiums are the fruit of years of campaigning by Iran's civil society activists.

Not everything has gone smoothly after the Iran-Spain game. The country's hard-liners further sharpened their attacks, albeit to little avail as the next episode marked another victory for Iranian women. On Oct. 16, they once again found their way into the grand stadium, purchasing tickets this time for a friendly match between the national teams of Iran and Bolivia.

Posted by at February 15, 2019 8:10 AM