Female Iranian football fans attend men’s Tehran derby

Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran

Featured image credit: مهدی زارع /CC BY 4.0/Edited for size

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has welcomed news that around 3,000 female fans attended yesterday’s (Thursday’s) Iran Pro League football game between Persepolis and Esteghlal.

It was earlier disclosed that up to 3,000 tickets would be made available, split evenly between the two teams, for the game which ended in a 1-1 draw after an injury time equaliser for Esteghlal. The match was held at the circa 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium, with the Tehran derby being one of the biggest games in Asian club football.

Women have been mainly banned from attending men’s football games and other sports events in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. There have been some exceptions to this rule in recent years, but campaign group OpenStadiums has said accessibility was limited with those seeking to attend facing harassment from the morality police.

Following yesterday’s match, OpenStadiums said on Twitter/X: “Historical day for women’s rights activists and the fight for equal access to public spaces will continue.”

In October 2021, it was announced that Iranian women would be permitted to attend a football match for the first time in two years when the men’s national team took on South Korea in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.

The last time Iranian women were allowed to attend a men’s match was on October 10, 2019 for Iran’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia. However, no fans were permitted at Iranian stadiums at all for a year due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Cambodia game, 3,500 tickets were sold to women, with a dedicated section at Azadi Stadium having sold out.

The attendance of women at the Cambodia match came after Infantino had urged Iranian authorities to allow female fans into football stadia. FIFA had previously written to the Iranian Football Federation informing it that there would be consequences if it did not provide a timeline for when women would be able to attend World Cup qualifiers.

The minimal progress on the issue in recent years has included female fans being prohibited from entering Iran’s World Cup qualifying game against Lebanon in Mashhad in March 2022. Following the match, video emerged of female supporters being pepper-sprayed outside the stadium.

Writing on Instagram following yesterday’s game, Infantino said: “In September, I had the pleasure of meeting the President of IR Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, in New York City, where we discussed the development of women’s football in the country and the progress made regarding the presence of women in football stadiums. It was, therefore, with great delight that I learned around 3,000 women attended the Tehran derby between Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC today.

“Thanks to the ongoing dialogue between FIFA and the Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation, progress is being made. I reiterate what I said to President Raisi in September that I will visit IR Iran in the near future to further discuss football-related matters. The country is a significant force in Asian football, and it is important that we continue to nurture the positive and fruitful working relationship we have built.”