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FIFA organises Iran visit to ‘assess preparations’ for female fans

Iranian fans protested the ban on female supporters at football games in the country during last year’s World Cup in Russia © AFP/File / Giuseppe CACACE

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Sep 11 – FIFA said on Wednesday it will send officials to Iran “shortly” to look at the possibility of allowing female spectators into football games in the country.

The announcement comes a week after an Iranian football fan set herself on fire outside a court and died after being told she would be jailed for six months for trying to enter a stadium in Tehran dressed as a man.

“A FIFA delegation will be on site shortly to assess the preparations to allow women at the stadium for the upcoming Wold Cup qualifier match in October,” FIFA told AFP.

The global governing body added no details regarding the date of the visit but Iran, who featured at the 2018 World Cup, host Cambodia, ranked 170th in the world, on October 10.

According to a source close to the proceedings, it will be a three-person delegation, representing FIFA’s competition department and its security department.

The same source said the officials will meet with the Iranian football association but refused to confirm or deny possible talks with the country’s authorities.

Iran has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981, with clerics arguing they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

Iran’s sports ministry said in August that women fans would be allowed into the stadium when Team Melli — as the national team are known — play their next home qualifier.

Sahar Khodayari’s death sparked outrage on social media, with many celebrities, football players and activists using the hashtag #blue_girl to call on FIFA to ban Iran from international competitions and fans to boycott matches.

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She has been dubbed “blue girl” because of the colours of her club in the capital, Esteghlal FC.

Iran has come under pressure from FIFA to allow women to attend qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, and was reportedly given a deadline of August 31 to comply.

The ban on women in stadiums is not written into law or regulations, but is “ruthlessly enforced”, said Human Rights Watch, calling it a “clear violation of the rules in FIFA”.

FIFA’s visit is linked to a process agreed months ago with the Iranian association.

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