Iran has “assured” FIFA that women will be able to attend a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran next month, according to Gianni Infantino, the president of football’s global governing body.
A female Iranian fan died this month after setting herself on fire to protest against her arrest for attending a game. “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 any more,” Infantino told a FIFA conference on women’s football on Sunday.
“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 officials have been in Iran this week discussing preparations for the October 10 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, their first home game of the 2022 qualifying competition.
It said on Saturday that the inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend the match next month.
FIFA added that the visit focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters”, adding that Iranian officials were told of the body’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely”.
The body also said it would be working with the Iranian football federation to develop plans for women to attend domestic matches in the Iranian league, as well.
Death of ‘Blue Girl’
Sahar Khodayari, dubbed “Blue Girl” after the colours of her favourite team Esteghlal, died in hospital after setting herself on fire outside a court where she feared being jailed for six months. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a stadium.
Khodayari’s death caused widespread outrage in Iran and internationally, prompting calls on social media for the country’s football federation to be suspended or banned by FIFA.
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.
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 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium in Tehran and detained by security forces, according to Reuters news agency.