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Iran detains women for trying to enter football stadium during FIFA head visit

Gianni Infantina joined Iranian sports minister for annual Tehran derby as women posted letter on Twitter asking him to enforce FIFA rules on gender equality

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Tehran's Azadi stadium. (Wikimedia commons)
Tehran's Azadi stadium. (Wikimedia commons)

Iranian authorities on Thursday detained two women for trying to get into a major football game in Tehran that was attended by the president of the international football association, FIFA, the BBC reported.

The women were not named and their situation was not clear.

The Twitter page of OpenStadiums, an Iranian women’s movement dedicated to allowing women to watch sports in stadiums, said families had gathered around the Vozara Detention Center in Tehran and had been told “the girls” would be released at around 8 pm.

The 100,000 capacity Azadi stadium in the Iranian capital was hosting the biggest annual fixture on the local football calendar — the derby between the two main Tehran teams, Esteghlal and Persepolis, which Esteghlal won.

FIFA’s chief, Gianni Infantino, on a two day visit to Iran to help mark the centenary of Iran’s football federation, attended the match with Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar.

A live TV interview with Infantino and Soltanifar after the game was abruptly taken off the air after a journalist asked when the ban on women might be lifted.

OpenStadiums on Thursday posted an open letter to Infantino, saying that gender discrimination at the gates of a stadium was a “clear violation” of the statues of both the Asian Football Confederation, to which Iran belongs, and of FIFA.

“As you are no doubt aware…women were prevented from attending this match for no reason other than their gender,” the letter said.

“It is time that the AFC and FIFA take a stand against those who actively and openly discriminate against female football fans in violation of statues, regulations, and human rights.”

The letter concluded, “On behalf of all Iranian women that love football and merely want to attend matches to support their teams of choice, we urge you to take the necessary disciplinary action against the FFIRI [Iran’s football federation] or others as required to protect our rights.”

Later on, Infantino met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani asked Infantino to ensure that “people are not deprived of watching competitions in their own stadiums,”the BBC reported.

He was not, however, referring to the admission of women but to a Saudi ban on the kingdom’s teams playing in Iran, enacted in 2016 when the Gulf kingdom broke off relations with Tehran.

This has forced Iranian footballers to play their home games against Saudi teams in Oman.

A ban on Saudi women attending football games was lifted in January.

The campaign by Iranian women to attend football games comes as protests against wearing the hijab gather steam.

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