For the last 38 years, it’s been illegal for women to attend soccer matches in Iran. Two of the country’s most prominent names in the sport say it’s time to change that.
“This is the demand of millions upon millions of female fans who’d like to watch soccer matches and other events up close,” Ali Karimi, a former Bayern Munich midfielder and current coach of one of Iran’s most popular teams, said told Iranian news agency ISNA this week (via RFE/RL). “This important issue is not impossible, this dream of female sports fans can be achieved through correct planning.”
Karimi’s comments follow those made late last month by current Iranian national team star Masoud Shojaei, who in a video shared by Radio Farda and other sites insinuated that women being allowed in stadiums would benefit the sport.
“I think if [the ban is lifted] we would have to build a stadium that could hold 200,000 spectators, because we see the flood of passion from our ladies,” he said (via RFE/RL).
The ban the players referred to was imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is based on a religious idea of keeping male and female crowds apart. The ban also is based on conservative societal norms, according to Human Rights Watch, which noted last year the ban is based “at least partly on the theory that women shouldn’t hear male fans swear and curse.”
The ban had previously applied to all sports, but in 2015, the Iranian government made a small exception to the law that allowed a limited number of women to attend men’s volleyball matches, where the atmosphere is generally less rowdy. The exemption was announced by Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, amid wide protests to the law sparked by the 2014 arrest of a 25-year-old British-Iranian woman who attempted to enter an arena to watch a men’s volleyball game.
While there is not an equivalent situation that is sparking wider calls for reform regarding soccer matches, Karimi and Shojaei hope their arguments push Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to follow through on the promises of reform he made when he was reelected in May.
“The conditions are set with the help of [Rouhani and the Iranian Football Federation],” Karimi said in his comments this week.
“I hope it happens very, very soon,” added Shojaei, who personally met with Rouhani last month, RFE/RL reports, after Iran qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The domestic calls for reform come amid stilted international urging of Iran to change the law. While former FIFA president Sepp Blatter called on Iran to begin admitting female fans into the country’s soccer stadiums, current President Gianni Infantino has remained mostly silent on the matter.