Gianni Infantino, the president of the International Football Union, is now also personally faced with demands that the Iranian Football Union be excluded from the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar. In an open letter sent on Thursday, the Iranian activists of the “Open Stadiums” campaign called “with an extremely heavy heart on the basis of Articles 3 and 4 of the FIFA Statutes” for FIFA to exclude their country’s national team from the tournament.
The activists have been campaigning for women’s right to visit stadiums since 2005, which the FIFA statutes, among other things, oblige their member associations to do. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic, women are banned from attending men’s games, and the ban has so far only been lifted in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. Since the end of August, women have been allowed to watch games at Esteghlal and Persepolis, having previously been granted access to some of the national team’s home games. However, even there far fewer women than men are granted access, and, as the letter states, they have to undergo “humiliating checks” by the moral guards at the entrances, which amount to “physical assaults”.
Infantino had not only emphasized the role of FIFA in the past few weeks when it came to the – very manageable – progress in the question of stadium access. In fact, the world association had increased the pressure again this year. Before that, however, FIFA had watched the extensive exclusion of women in Iran for four decades without sanctioning Iran.
A report by the London-based portal Iran Wire shows how undesirable the Iranian government is – and correspondingly fragile – for women to enter the stadium: According to this, Ensieh Chazali, the Islamic Republic’s vice-president for women’s policy in the administration of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, has started September successfully demanded that the spectators in the women’s block in the Azadi Stadium may not be photographed or shown on television in future. The upcoming game day on October 9th and 10th is to take place without any spectators due to the ongoing protests by citizens demanding freedom.
With their demand, the Open Stadium activists refer to the wave of protests that has been going on in their country for the past two weeks, which are being led by women, for freedom and against the suppression of women’s right to self-determination by the moral police. The trigger was the death of Dschina Mahsa Amini in the custody of the forces of the Gasht-e Ershad, whom they had arrested at the exit of a subway station for allegedly revealing clothing. Her name is now synonymous with the dangers of bondage to which large sections of Iranian citizens see themselves exposed by Islamist laws under theocratic leadership. According to official figures, 41 people lost their lives in the protests, but credible reports from human rights organizations say at least twice as many people died. At the same time, a wave of arrests is running.
In their letter, the Iranians also refer to the way in which female fans were treated in the eastern Iranian metropolis Mashhad in March of this year. At that time, women had been promised that they would be allowed to attend the Iranian team’s World Cup qualifier against Lebanon. When they were not allowed in and protested in front of the stadium, the women were dispersed by security forces using tear gas and pepper spray. At the time, a FIFA spokesman told FAZ.NET “concern” and at the same time emphasized the “historic progress” that had been achieved in Iran.