By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he is hopeful that Iran will address the “unacceptable situation” of banning women from entering soccer stadiums as a World Cup qualifying match nears.
The head of the world soccer’s governing body said in a statement on September 19 that he had contacted Iranian soccer officials several times recently over the issue and a FIFA delegation is currently in Iran.
“Our position is clear and firm. Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran,” he said.
The visit by FIFA follows the death of a 29-year-old woman who set herself on fire after being charged for attempting to attend a men’s soccer match disguised as a male
Khodayari, nicknamed “The Blue Girl” after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, died in a hospital in Tehran, Iranian media reported on September 9.
While FIFA has said that the delegation’s visit was not a specific response to Khodayari’s death and is related to preparations for Iran’s home World Cup qualifier versus Cambodia on October 10, Infantino’s statement made it clear that FIFA wants change sooner, rather than later.
“We understand there are steps and processes that need to be taken before this is done in a proper and safe way but now is the moment to change things and FIFA is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October,” he said in the statement.
Iran plays Cambodia in a 2022 World Cup qualifier on October 10 at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
In past years, only selected groups of women have been allowed into stadiums to watch soccer matches or other men’s sporting events.
The ban on women in sports venues in Iran is not part of any legislation or regulations. Nonetheless, it is enforced with clerics arguing that women must be shielded from foul-mouthed, semi-clad men.
FIFA has come under fire from some rights activists who say the organization has failed to put Tehran under enough pressure.