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Opinion | FIFA Must Pressure Iran to Let Women Attend Soccer Matches




FIFA finally acted. At an awards event in September, the organization’s president, Gianni Infantino, promised in front of the world that Iranian women would be allowed to attend a FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Iran and Cambodia on Oct. 10 and all future matches. We’ll see what happens on Thursday.

But don’t let FIFA say it’s responsible for overturning the stadium ban. In March 2018, Mr. Infantino attended a match in Iran’s Azadi stadium while 35 women were being arrested for daring to attend. I wrote eight letters to FIFA, and in November 2018, I met in Zurich with a FIFA leader, Fatma Samoura, to deliver 200,000 signatures of a petition against the ban. In April 2019, I filed an ethics complaint to protest this violation of FIFA’s nondiscrimination and human rights policies. FIFA did not act fast enough — and now Sahar is dead.

Still, even now, FIFA has agreed to a low quota of tickets for women — reportedly only 3,500 in a stadium that holds some 100,000. Women will be sent to different gates and to segregated sections. There are still no restrooms for women in other major stadiums, with the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran claiming that providing the infrastructure to accommodate women would create a “budgetary” problem.

And FIFA has not done the basic work to ensure that women can safely attend future international matches. FIFA should set a deadline for club league matches to admit families so that we can watch the games together. If FIFA can’t get Iran to follow its rules, the country’s soccer federation should be suspended from participating in international tournaments.

Allowing women the basic right to watch soccer matches in a stadium with their families would symbolize meaningful progress for women’s rights in the country. It’s still not safe for me to return to Iran for Thursday’s match, but I hope that some day I can watch my brother in person, seated with all of my family, in Azadi stadium.


Azadi means “freedom” in Farsi — and when all women are allowed to freely attend matches, the stadium will finally be worthy of its name.

Maryam Shojaei is an activist from Iran who founded the #NoBan4Women movement, which promotes a woman’s right to attend sports events in Iran.

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