KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Gianni Infantino has told Iranian authorities that he expects a reversal of their ban on women fans attending men’s matches.

At a time when the Islamic Republic is entangled in other international issues Infantino issued a carefully-worded statement which still leaves the Iranians wriggle room.

Gianni Infantino . . . gradually escalating dispute

The latest round in a dispute which has been escalating steadily since the presidential era of predecessor Sepp Blatter was triggered by the death of a female football fan who set herself alight for fear of a jail sentence for slipping into a match in defiance of a ban on women supporters.

Sahar Khodayari, 30, was arrested last year while trying to enter a stadium disguised as a man to attend a match of her favorite team, Tehran’s Esteghlal FC.

Nicknamed “The Blue Girl”, in reference to Esteghlal’s colors, Sahar Khodayari set herself on fire at the entrance of a court in Tehran two weeks ago.

‘Gesture politics’

The Iranian Sports Ministry announced at the end of August that supporters would be allowed to attend next month’s World Cup qualifying tie at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran between Iran and Cambodia.

However this was generally considered to be little more than ‘gesture politics’ since a handful of women have been allowed access to carefully selected international matches for some time.

In Iran, women have been banned from stadiums since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, with religious leaders arguing that they need to be protected from the “male atmosphere” and “half-naked men” .

The latest tragic incident prompted FIFA to arrange for a delegation to visit Iran to review the situation.

Infantino’s statement said:

I am hopeful that the Iranian Federation and the Iranian authorities were receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation.

I contacted them several times in the recent past and so has the FIFA administration. We have a delegation of FIFA members in Iran at the moment and I am looking forward to hearing good news from them.

Our position is clear and firm. Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran.

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.

Concern that Iran still had room for manoeuvre, admitting women fans omly to FIFA World Cup ties were answered by a statement from the delegation after its visit.

It concluded: “FIFA’s position is firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.”

Full FIFA delegation statement:

The delegation, which was also joined by a representative of the Asian Football Confederation, met with the country’s Deputy Minister of Sport and Youth, and representatives of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) focusing on international relations, security and ticketing matters. The delegation also inspected the Azadi stadium in Tehran, where on 10 October 2019 the national teams of Iran and Cambodia will play a qualification game for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

In these productive discussions, FIFA reiterated its firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely and that the number of women who attend the stadiums be determined by the demand, resulting in ticket sales.

The inspections on site showed that there are no noteworthy operational obstacles to these measures being implemented at the Azadi stadium, starting with the game on 10 October 2019. In that respect, the delegation also discussed the detailed ticketing procedures as well as operational procedures required and in line with relevant FIFA regulations.

Furthermore, the delegation discussed the need to open stadiums for women to attend national matches. In that respect, FIFA announced that it will, based on the operational plans and results of the 10 October 2019 game, collaborate with the FFIRI in developing an operational protocol and related requirements for matches in the Iranian football league to be opened for women as well.

FIFA will continue to engage closely with the FFIRI and relevant government entities to implement these important changes in accordance with FIFA regulations.

FIFA’s position is firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.