Iranian woman urges more stadium access for female fans

An Iranian woman has spoken out over the unfair treatment of female football fans in the country and called for women to be given more access to stadiums.

Iranian women are currently banned from attending football matches in Iran, although many have managed to sneak into stadiums to see games.

Speaking to The World Game, Sara, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is one of those to have successfully slipped into games, but is now keen for Iran President Haasan Rouhani to take action over the situation so as to ensure greater gender equality in the country.

“It’s been 21 years that I am huge football fan, but I haven’t had a chance to watch a match normally,” Sara said. “You feel like you are not human, (that) they don’t count you as part of the nation. It’s a very sad feeling,”

Sara and three other women were able to gain access to the Iranian national team’s Fifa World Cup qualifier against South Korea at the Azadi Stadium (pictured) in 2009 and, despite being caught by security, were allowed to watch the game.

“It was several years ago and security issues weren’t like recent years, but the woman that was responsible for the Korean women handed us to the Sport Ministry security forces,” Sara said.

“We were really scared, and I especially felt responsible for the other girls since I was older. I was thinking we are going to jail, but in a very unexpected situation the security told us just sit in a separate place from the Koreans. They were nice.”

However, despite the ongoing efforts of groups like Open Stadiums – also known as White Scarves – which, co-founded by Sara, campaigns for better access to stadia, the situation is now very different.

The White Scarves do have support from a number of parties, including Iranian national team captain Masoud Shojaei, who met with President Rouhani earlier this year to discuss the matter.

Speaking to local media after the meeting, Shojaei said: “I know it is the wish of many, including our women. We have many football loving women and I think we might have to build a 200,000 capacity stadium due to the flood of enthusiasm our women have shown.

“I hope this happens and President Rouhani follows this matter closely and more seriously.”

Fatma Samoura, general secretary of football’s global governing body Fifa, has also spoken out in support of women like Sara, explaining that the subject was one of many issues discussed during a recent meeting with the Iranian Football Association.

Samoura said: “I strongly believe that through football we can bring about changes, overcome socio-cultural barriers and gender discrimination, but we have to be humble and realistic, Fifa does not decide on the laws and policies of any given country.

“Equal rights and gender equality within the scope of football are of high importance to Fifa and we hope our regular contact and discussions will allow women to access football in all areas of Iran and around the world.”

Image: Tabarez