Iran allows token number of women in stadium under pressure from FIFA

Under pressure from world soccer federation FIFA, 500 female fans were allowed into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch a local league soccer match.

Tickets were only sold to 500 female fans and a special forces unit of female riot police was on hand to lead them to their secluded section of the 100,000 seat stadium. many say the ban on women’s attendance at football matches was only lifted under pressure from the international governing body for association football (FIFA).

Football’s world authority had been trying to convince the Iranian government to lift the tacit ban on women attending stadiums to watch male players for nearly a decade.

The ban led to numerous arrests, beatings, detentions and abuses against women.

Iranian officials have always maintained that male football fans swear profanity, so the atmosphere in stadiums is not suitable for women even if they are seated in another part of the stadium.

“I wish you had voluntarily opened the gates of the stadium to Iranian women and that pressure from FIFA had not been behind the achievement of [female fans’] right [to watch games in stadiums]wrote Azar Mansouri, Iran’s first female party leader in a commentary in the reformist newspaper Etemad Sunday.

“Opposing the demands of half the country’s population to go to stadiums, ride bikes in public and the right to choose how to dress means the demand to end discrimination. Why should advocacy like going to stadiums be opposed in the name of religion in a society prone to tensions and all kinds of protests and violence, for people to say that pressure from FIFA saved the Iranian woman Mansouri, who was elected general secretary of the Etehad-e Mellat (Unity of the Nation) party in December, wrote.

Ensieh Khazali, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, however, affirmed on Sunday that the decision to allow the presence of women the game was made by the Ministry of Sports and pressure from FIFA played no part in it.

Many Iranians had urged FIFA to ban their country of the World Cup after hundreds of female fans were again refused entry to a soccer stadium on March 1 in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, to watch a qualifying match in the World Cup between Iran and Lebanon, despite pressure from FIFA to lift the ban on women entering stadiums. Fans, with tickets in hand, were barred from entering and pepper sprayed when they asked to be allowed in.

Authorities tried to use the unprecedented presence of women at Azadi Stadium on Friday for regime propaganda, but videos circulating on social networks show enraged fans booing, during a religious and ideological propaganda song performed by a choir at halftime and drowning out the choir’s voice.

The song, “Hello Commander”, is heavily promoted by the Islamic Republic, especially among children, and was performed for the first time in front of a stadium full of mobilized regime supporters and schoolchildren on May 27.

‘Hello Commander’ is a song dedicated to Mahdi, the 12th Imam of Shia who has been in occultation since the 9th century according to Shia believers. The song and its promotion are unusual as the music belongs to the often frowned upon pop genre that has no place in Iranian state media.

‘Hello Commander’ also mentions Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who is considered by his followers to be the Imam representative on earth and must be obeyed as the Imam would be if he were present among the believers.

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