FIFA President Sepp Blatter has called on Iran to begin admitting female patrons at the country’s soccer arenas. Blatter’s appeal came in the form of an essay published in FIFA’s weekly magazine.
Citing March 8, which is recognized as International Women’s Day and is a big holiday in several countries, Blatter writes of his travels to Iran in 2013 when he learned about two things: the country’s love of soccer and its law that bans women from entering stadiums.
“I raised the topic at my meeting with President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, and came away with the impression that this intolerable situation could change over the medium term. However, nothing has happened,” Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term as FIFA president, writes. “A collective ‘stadium ban’ still applies to women in Iran, despite the existence of a thriving women’s football organization. This cannot continue. Hence, my appeal to the Iranian authorities: Open the nation’s football stadiums to women!”
The law Blatter refers to was imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is based on a religious idea of keeping male and female crowds apart.
In the last year, however, people have ramped up protests of the law, which doesn’t just apply to soccer stadiums. In the most high-profile incident, a 25-year-old British-Iranian woman was actually jailed last year for attempting to watch a men’s volleyball game.
Ghoncheh Ghavami came to the volleyball game on June 20 with a group of women intentionally to protest the law. After being arrested, however, she found herself serving 41 days in solitary confinement before being released on bail in November, the Telegraph reports.
Another group protested the law earlier this year during soccer’s Asian Cup in Australia, CNN reports. Thousands of female fans of Iran attended the match against Iraq, where they held up a banner referencing Ghavami and her case.
Blatter does not reference the growing protests, but instead cites statistics, which he believes proves women should not be ignored.
“Twenty years ago, I said that the future of football is feminine. Nowadays, more than 30 million girls and women play football in all 209 FIFA member associations,” Blatter writes. “Women’s football is booming, especially at junior levels: 14 percent of all young players are female.”
“The potential for growth is greater than in any other area of our sport, and the opportunity to overcome social and community barriers is even more pronounced. Even in territories where women are all but invisible for cultural reasons, football can instill a sense of purpose and self-worth that is too often denied them in their everyday lives.”
Blatter’s championship of gender equality is a nice gesture from FIFA, which was recently taken to court over gender discrimination allegations leveled by several top female soccer players. Led by Team USA’s Abby Wambach and supported by dozens of others, the players protested FIFA’s approval of a plan to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on artificial turf, which the players considered an inferior surface compared to natural grass. No men’s World Cup has ever been played on artificial turf.The players withdrew the lawsuit in January, however, and FIFA’s artificial turf plan remains unchanged.