KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned the Iranian authorities that allowing women fans into the Azadi Stadium for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia was only a beginning.
Human rights groups have always feared that the Iranian easing of a 40-year ban was merely a one-off gesture to remove the focus of worldwide criticism and that no further steps would be taken.
However Infantino has warned in a statement after Iran’s 14-0 victory that the world football federation expected the easing to be extended down through the country’s football structure.
Iranian women fans took advantage of the match opportunity to pay tribute to the ‘Blue Girl’ fan who died last month after setting herself on fire for fear of a jail sentence for trying to attend a match dressed as a man.
An estimated 3,000 noisy, cheering fans attended the World Cup tie in a women-only section in the Azadi Stadium. FIFA had sent a delegation to Tehran to ensure that women were allowed to attend the game after the death last month of Sahar Khodayari, nicknamed “Blue Girl” online for her favourite team Esteghlal’s colours.
Reuters reported one fan telling local television: “We have an incredible feeling as the first Iranian women entering the stadium. Inshallah from now on all of our friends will also be able to come.”
Women are not currently able to attend men’s games in their domestic club league but FIFA want that to change.
Infantino welcomed Iran’s “step forward” but added: “FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in IR Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment. There can be no stopping or turning back now.”
Full statement by FIFA president Gianni Infantino:
I would like to thank both the IR Iran FA, the AFC and the authorities involved for their efforts and cooperation. FIFA will continue to work closely with them, to help ensure that the right thing is done, which is to allow all fans, irrespective of gender, to have the chance to go to the stadiums and enjoy a game of football. Since I arrived at FIFA, we fight to see this objective fulfilled.
But, above all, today I want to say a very big thank you and record our utmost respect to all of the Iranian girls and women who courageously stood and are standing up for their rights. FIFA fully supports them and will stand by them.