Iranian women barred from attending soccer game despite promises

If women are not allowed to enter the stadium, “why did they sell us tickets?” one woman asked.

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Hundreds of Iranian women were barred from entering a stadium in northeast Iran on Tuesday to watch their national team’s World Cup qualifying match against Lebanon, Iranian media reported.

The women were not allowed entry into the Imam Reza stadium in the holy Shia city of Mashhad despite having tickets for the match, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

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Not being allowed to enter the stadium led to the women staging a protest outside the stadium, Fars said.

One woman, speaking to Fars outside the stadium, said: “They said that women can get tickets and enter the stadium. We were on the website yesterday from 12 p.m. 8 p.m. so we could get tickets. All the ladies who are here have tickets. We took leave from work, we spent a lot of money, but now they are saying women can’t enter.”

If women are not allowed to enter the stadium, “why did they sell us tickets?” asked another woman.

Footage shared on social media showed security forces using pepper spray against the women outside the stadium.

In a statement to Al Arabiya English, world soccer governing body FIFA said it “has heard with concerns reports that women were not allowed at the match in Mashhad yesterday and is asking the Iranian Football Federation more information on this matter.”

“FIFA’s position in relation to the presence of women at football matches in the Islamic Republic of Iran is clear: historic progress has been achieved – as exemplified by the milestone in October 2019, when thousands of women were allowed into the stadium for the first time in 40 years, and more recently when some women were allowed again at the FIFA World Cup qualifier match in Tehran in January – and FIFA expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back.”

Iran, which had already qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, defeated Lebanon 2-0. Only male fans were present in the stands, photos from inside the stadium published by state media showed.

Iran’s theocratic rulers have long been opposed to women attending men’s soccer matches.

Iranian women have been banned from stadiums hosting men’s soccer matches since shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

FIFA ordered Iran in September 2019 to allow women access to stadiums without any restrictions.

The FIFA directive came after a young Iranian woman named Sahar Khodayari – dubbed “Blue Girl” for the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal FC – died after setting herself on fire outside a court where she feared being jailed for trying to attend a match disguised as a man.

Iran in January allowed some women to attend Iran’s match against Iraq in the capital Tehran.

Critics at the time said Iran only allowed a select number of women to attend the match under pressure from FIFA, describing the move as a propagandist effort to “appease” FIFA.

Read more: US Iran envoy criticized for ‘parroting Iranian propaganda’ about women in stadiums

**This article has been updated to include a comment from FIFA sent to Al Arabiya English after the original story was published.

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