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FIFA Sends Delegation To Iran Over Ban On Women In Stadiums

A handout picture released by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him (R) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino holding a jersey with Rouhani's name during Infantino's visit to the capital Tehran on March 1, 2018.

A delegation from the International Football Federation (FIFA) visited Tehran on Friday to discuss allowing female soccer fans into Iran's stadiums to watch men’s matches.

A day earlier on Thursday, September 19, FIFA's president, Gianni Infantino, had expressed hope that the Islamic Republic authorities would end the "unacceptable ban" on Iranian women to watch live soccer games in the country's arenas.

Infantino reiterated that he contacted Iran's football federation and Iranian authorities several times recently and was "hopeful" they were "receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation," adding, "Our position is clear and firm. Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran."

FIFA's delegation visited Iran days after an Iranian woman set herself on fire and later died in a hospital in the capital city, Tehran.

Sahar Khodayari, 29, a soccer fan, decided to burn herself upon being informed of her impending jail sentence for the "crime" of entering a sports arena; she died last week as a result of her injuries.

Her tragic death triggered a series of criticism against an unwritten law in Iran that has deprived women of the right to enter stadiums and watch male football games. Dubbed as the "Blue Girl", after the color of her favorite team's jersey, Sahar Khodayari has turned into a paragon for women's rights in Iran.

Infantino also asserted in his statement, "Now is the moment to change things and FIFA is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match."

Iran, the top-ranked team in Asia, hosts Cambodia at the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium in Tehran on October 10.

Iranian women used to freely enter the country's sports arenas, including Azadi stadium, to watch their favorite matches.

However, almost immediately after the downfall of Iran's last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, women were practically banned from attending men’s games.

FIFA has repeatedly warned Iran to end the forty-year ban before its World Cup qualification match against Cambodia. It is still not clear if the visiting delegation has succeeded in securing full rights for women to attend games.

Critics are concerned that FIFA will make concessions and Iran will get away with a token show of allowing a limited number of women, as it already happened once earlier.

FIFA's charter prohibits discrimination by member federations and could allow for Iran to be suspended from international soccer.

Nevertheless, conservative clerics, including those known as officially recognized Grand Ayatollahs, have vehemently resisted the call, vaguely asserting that women watching men's games is against the "principles of Islam."

Furthermore, the country's Prosecutor-General has warned that even if the government relented and decided to allow women to enter stadiums, his men would stop them.