A feminist storm emanating from Iranian soccer stadiums has embroiled and embarrassed the ayatollah regime on the international stage over the past week.

Last week, authorities in the Islamic republic prohibited women from attending a World Cup qualifying match in the northeastern city of Mashhad, between the Iranian and Lebanese national teams.

A video circulating on social media showed hundreds of female soccer fans chanting “we have an objection” in response to the decision to ban them from attending the match.

Khabaronline, an Iranian news website, said that “despite tickets being sold, women are still not allowed to attend the stadium.”

Women were officially permitted to attend soccer games following large protests in the country in 2019. Yet, authorities still regularly prevent women from entering stadiums under a variety of pretenses.

What was the excuse this time? The Iranian Football Federation issued a statement claiming, without evidence, that “fake” tickets were distributed among fans.

“It was explicitly written that women can purchase tickets and attend the match. Hundreds of women bought tickets and waited in line for hours. We spent a lot of money, and now we aren’t allowed in,” one of the protesters told Iranian news outlets. Police forces arrived at the scene and began firing pepper spray at the women. Many men also joined the protests, voicing their anger at the decision.

In a video circulated on social media on March 31, male football fans in Isfahan football stadium sang together, “There is no difference between men and women, we all love football.” Amir Hossein Sadeghi, a former Iranian football player, said in an Instagram story that he won’t go to a stadium until women are allowed to as well. People speaking out against the ban included Voria Ghafoori, who both plays for the national football team and captains an extremely popular team in Iran’s football league, and Ali Daei, the legendary football player who attended the World Cup final draw in Doha. Both called the events in Mashhad “shameful.”

Ahmad Alamolhoda, Friday prayer leader in Mashhad, who was appointed by the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he is always against the presence of women as spectators in men’s sports competitions. He called their attendance “vulgarity.”

One Iranian woman wrote on Twitter: “Today, female soccer fans from Iran were hit with tear gas outside Imam Reza Stadium. Dear men, you are so shameless that you attack the women of your country that only wanted to watch a soccer game? Nothing will manage to shame you, not even an ultimatum from FIFA [soccer’s international governing body].”

Some experts say allowing women into stadiums remains a social fault line in Iran because the government believes it will open the floodgates to young girls and women demanding greater freedoms, including the abolition of the state’s strict Islamic dress code.

Sara Tafakori, a lecturer in media and communication at the University of Leeds and an expert on gender studies and Iranian women, told US-based Middle East news website Al-Monitor that the heavy-handed crackdown in Mashhad illustrates how gender discrimination in Iran does not differentiate between religious and secular citizens.

“The majority of women who were assaulted with pepper spray by the state security forces did not actually necessarily come from secular or less religious backgrounds,” said Tafakori.

FIFA expressed its outrage over the conduct of Iran, which had promised the organization to allow women to attend games, and said it would launch an inquiry into the matter.

Source » israelhayom