FIFA said Saturday that women in Iran will now be able to attend football games, starting with a World Cup qualifier match next month.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a conference on Sunday that Iranian officials assured FIFA that women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. “We have been assured that as of the next international game of Iran…women will be allowed to enter football stadiums,” said Infantino. “This is something very important — in 40 years this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions.”
Women have been banned from stadiums in Iran where men are playing since just after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. However, foreign women have been allowed limited access to stadiums, and the ban was temporarily lifted last year to allow women to watch the World Cup being streamed at a stadium in Tehran.
The announcement follows the death of Sahar Khodayari, or Iran’s “blue girl,” a woman who was arrested for sneaking into a stadium to watch her favorite team’s match. Khodayari was detained by police and released after three nights in jail, pending her court case. After learning she could be imprisoned for six months, she set herself on fire, prompting widespread grief.
“What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heart-breaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country,” Phillip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said in a statement in reaction to Khodayari’s death. “Her only ‘crime’ was being a woman in a country where women face discrimination that is entrenched in law and plays out in the most horrific ways imaginable in every area of their lives, even sports.”
Football players and fans around the world have also been paying tribute to Khodayari. Players from some European women’s teams have been wearing blue armbands during matches in her memory, for example.
Additionally, FIFA has faced criticism from fans, with people calling for the governing body to suspend or ban Iran’s team.
FIFA said in its statement on Saturday that there are “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to allowing women to enter the Azadi stadium in Tehran as soon as October 10th, when Iran is scheduled to play Cambodia for a World Cup qualifier match.
Sources: BBC 9/10/19; BBC 9/22/19; TIME 9/22/19