FIFA to send delegation to Iran to ensure woman can attend World Cup qualifier

A 29-year-old female Iranian fan died earlier this month, after setting herself on fire to protest against her arrest for attending a match.

September 27, 2019 08:22
FIFA to send delegation to Iran to ensure woman can attend World Cup qualifier

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 General view of a banner displayed referencing Iranian women during the match. (photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are weighing plans to send a delegation to Tehran October 10, to ensure that women will be admitted and able to attend the World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Cambodia.

Youri Raffi Djorkaeff, a former French national team member and part of the squad who won the 1998 World Cup in France, was recently elected CEO of the FIFA Foundation and told AFP Thursday that he plans to be a part of the delegation hading to the Islamic Republic in October.

"Established in March 2018, the FIFA Foundation was created as an independent entity with the objectives to help promote positive social change around the world and raise support for the recovery and reconstruction of damaged or destroyed sports infrastructure worldwide," according to the FIFA website - one of their founding goals include making soccer more accessible to women in the Middle East, especially in countries such as Iran who ban women from entering stadiums.

"Iran is a hot topic and I am organizing myself to be there on October 10," Djorkaeff said, adding that the presence of the delegation is "to show that FIFA intervened [against the situation in Iran] with conviction."

FIFA has been "assured" by Iranian authorities that women will be able to attend the October World Cup qualifier in Tehran, Gianni Infantino, president of the body said last week.

A 29-year-old female Iranian fan died earlier this month, after setting herself on fire to protest against her arrest for attending a match.

FIFA officials were in Iran last week discussing preparations for the Oct. 10 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, their first home game of the 2022 qualifying competition.

"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 anymore," Infantino told a FIFA conference on women's football.

"We have been assured, that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums," he said.

"This is something very important, it is 40 years that this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions, but it is important to move to the next level and to the next stage," he added.

FIFA said on Saturday it would be working with the Iranian football federation to develop plans for women to attend domestic matches in the Iranian league as well.

The 29-year-old Iranian woman who set herself on fire in front of a Tehran court on September 1 in protest of a six-month prison sentence she was possibly facing for trying to enter a men's soccer game back in March died in the hospital a couple weeks back.

Also known as Iran's "Blue Girl" for the color of her favorite soccer team, she reportedly suffered from burns covering 90% of her body and was on life support until her death.

The woman attempted to disguise herself as a man in order to enter the stadium. She was stopped by security forces and then quickly escorted to Qarchak prison, known to be one of the country's more menacing prisons due to "inhumane medical and psychological conditions"

Khodayari’s death has caused widespread outrage in Iran and internationally, prompting calls on social media for Iran’s football federation to be suspended or banned by FIFA - as well as calls from some of Iran's top soccer-superstars on the government to enact social change, calling the limitations on women "disgusting and rotten."

Iranian soccer players Masoud Shojaei and Vorya Ghaffouri have spoken out in condemnation of the Islamic Republic following the arrest of a 29-year-old woman after she tried to enter a men's soccer match.

"As we are shocked by the limitations that were set for women in the past, the future generation will also definitely be astonished by [finding out] that women were banned from entering sports arenas in our time," said Shojaei, the captain of the Iranian men's football team on a live Instagram post.

"The origin of such limitations is the rotten and disgusting thinking of the past, and will be incomprehensible for the next generation," he said.

Critics say FIFA’s own statutes hold discrimination on grounds of gender punishable by suspension or expulsion.

While foreign women have been allowed limited access to matches, Iranian women have been banned from stadiums when men’s teams have been playing, since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"This school of thought that bans women from entering sports stadiums is not justifiable," Esteqlal captain Ghaffouri wrote in an Instagram post.

Khodayari, who allegedly was suffering from and was under treatment for bipolar disorder, protested the sentence by pouring gasoline over her body and setting herself on fire directly outside a court in Tehran. Many have requested FIFA to hold the Iranian football federation accountable as a result of the court case.

There were signs the situation regarding female fans in Iran was changing when a group of women was permitted to attend the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in Tehran last November, a match where Infantino was present.

Female fans, however, have been denied access to matches since. At Iran’s friendly against Syria in June, women were locked out of the Azadi Stadium and detained by security forces.

The woman's self-immolation comes almost three weeks after Iran, under international pressure, released a group of women who were arrested for watching a men's soccer match. The women disguised themselves as men, just as Khodayari did, but failed to fool Iranian officials. Their situation had a more positive ending, since they were released from jail.

Iran has consistently faced international scrutiny regarding its modesty laws. Iran says that women watching men's soccer promotes promiscuity.

FIFA commands a code of ethics against discrimination and has given the country an ultimatum that it must fulfill by the match against Cambodia: Allow women to enter sports arenas or the Iranian team will be removed from international soccer events.

Iran is presently the only country in the world that prohibits women from entering sporting events.

The rule stems from an "unwritten law" that has been "supported by religious conservatives and political hardliners" since the change in power during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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