Iran To Let Women Watch Football Matches, But There's A Catch

Women have been banned from watching men's matches in Iran since 1979, with those caught facing jail sentences, but that law could soon be set to change.

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, said Iran has "assured" him that women will be allowed into stadiums to watch games. It is the latest social reform to relax oppressive laws in the country, with the system previously seeing some women disguising themselves behind fake beards to sneak into matches.

The issue was once again brought to the forefront, with the death of female Iranian football fan Sahar Khodayari -- known as 'Blue Girl', in reference to the colours of the team she supported, Esteghlal FC.

Sahar Khodayari. Photo: Twitter

Khodayari, 30, was arrested for disguising herself as a man and attending a football match at a Tehran stadium. She was charged with “openly committing a sinful act by… appearing in public without a hijab” and “insulting officials”.

On September 2, after learning she would face a six month jail sentence, Khodayari set herself on fire outside the court. She died a week later from her injuries.

Other female fans have disguised themselves as men to gain access to stadiums, including a group of women wearing fake beards at Iran's Persian Gulf Pro League in Tehran last year.

Five women disguise themselves at Azadi Stadium in Tehran. Photo: Reddit

In May last year, 35 women were detained after attempting to attend a football match in Tehran. Authorities said the women were released after the match.

On Sunday, Infantino addressed the FIFA Conference and spoke about the ban, saying Iran had "assured" him women will allowed in stadiums to watch football matches.

"We need Iranian women as well to be able to attend the men's game," he said.

"We need to push for that, with respect but in a strong and forceful way.

"We have been assured that as of the next international game in Iran, which is to be played on 10 October, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums."

Iran's fans hold up a banner as they celebrate after the final whistle of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B  match. Photo: Getty

However, while the ban has been lifted for Iran's next international match against Cambodia, it is not a permanent change.

FIFA has previously been pressured by its own Human Rights Advisory Board to impose sanctions on the Iran Football Federation if the ban was not lifted.

READ MORE: The Power Of Sport To Bring About Political Change

A report by the Board in September last year said FIFA needed to be "explicit about the time frame" for the Iranian Football Federation to let women into stadiums.

One such sanction recommended would be to ban the IFF from bidding to host FIFA sanction events because "by definition, this would pose challenges to FIFA meeting its own human rights responsibilities".

Photo: Getty

The Board, made up of human rights experts appointed by FIFA, said the ban violated FIFA's own Ethics Code, which "specifically prohibits discrimination including on the basis of gender."

"While Article 3 was introduced in early 2016, Article 4, prohibiting discrimination on various grounds including gender, has been in place since 2004," the report said.

"As a result, this expectation should not come as a surprise to any Member Association."

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have also called on FIFA to do more to ensure women can freely watch matches in stadiums.

“To our knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women seeking to enter football stadiums," Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International, said.

"This discriminatory ban must end immediately and the international community, including football’s world governing body, FIFA, and the Asian Football Confederation, must take urgent action to end the ban."

Open Stadiums, a movement of Iranian women seeking to let women attend stadiums, believes this latest announcement by FIFA has an agenda behind their "guilt washing".

"FIFA issued a statement which was repeating their previous words and suddenly some headlines came up celebrating women will enter to stadiums in October 10th, which was already decided by sport ministry before all these incidents," Open Stadiums said.

The ban was temporarily lifted last during during the World Cup, with women allowed into Azadi Stadium to watch a broadcasts of Iran's matches during the tournament.