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FIFA May Send Observers To Iran To Assure Women's Match Attendance

Iranian women waiting behind the gates before a Perspolis match in Azadi Stadium on November 10, 2018.
Iranian women waiting behind the gates before a Perspolis match in Azadi Stadium on November 10, 2018.

FIFA is considering a move to send observers to Tehran to make sure women spectators are allowed to attend the World Cup 2022 soccer qualifying match between Iran and Cambodia next month.

FIFA Foundation CEO Youri Djorkaeff, who won the World Cup with France, told AFP on September 26 that he would be part of any delegation.

"Iran is a hot topic, and I am organizing myself to be there on October 10," the former midfielder said.

The presence of a delegation in Tehran is important "to show that FIFA intervened there with conviction," he added.

The FIFA Foundation’s stated objectives include making soccer more accessible to women in the Middle East.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino on September 22 said soccer's world governing body had been "assured" by Tehran that authorities will allow women spectators into the arena when Iran hosts the international match

Following the death of a female fan, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire following her arrest for trying to enter a stadium, there had been calls to ban Iran from international competition.

Khiodayari, nicknamed “The Blue Girl” after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, had reportedly suffered burns over 90 percent of her body in the self-immolation.

The conservative Shi’ite Muslim nation has banned women from stadiums since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Religious leaders have claimed that they must be protected from the "male atmosphere" and the "sight of half-naked men."

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has mostly failed to deliver on pledges to open up some aspects of Iranian society, including reforms that could help lift Iranian women from distant second-class status under the law.

FIFA has received frequent criticism for its perceived failure to confront Iran's and others' gender-based discrimination.

On August 25, Iranian Deputy Sports Minister Jamshid Tahizade announced that women would be allowed to attend the Cambodia match.

But Tehran has dithered on the issue in the past, apparently prompting a FIFA visit earlier this month.

"FIFA’s position is firm and clear," the group said in its recent statement. "Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches."

A small number of women have been allowed to attend international matches in recent years, but others have been prosecuted for going to games in other competitions.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters