As It Happens

Iranian woman barred from World Cup qualifier 'watched every Syrian woman go in'

An Iranian soccer fan tells As It Happens why she risked arrest to protest outside the World Cup qualifier at Tehran's Azadi Stadium.
Fans of Syria pose during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying soccer match between Iran and Syria at the Azadi stadium in Tehran. Iranian women, even ticket-holders, were not allowed in. (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA)

Story transcript

An Iranian soccer fan travelled 400 kilometres to Tehran for the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Syria on Tuesday — but she never stepped foot in the stadium.

That's because women — or at least, Iranian women — aren't allowed in.

"The name of the stadium is Azadi, which means 'freedom' in Persian, and that's funny because half of our people in Iran cannot go," the woman, who asked to remain anonymous for her own safety, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

I think it's our work to force our government to do this, so we should try and try, and we want all of our countrymen to do this, and we want all of the people to support us.- Iranian protester

Instead, she and a small group of fellow female sports fans protested outside the match.

"I'm a soccer fan and I love football but we cannot go to a stadium and we cannot encourage our national team and our favourite team, so I wanted to protest and ask why," she said. 

"We wanted to ask why all people all over the world can go to our stadium in our country, but when it comes to Iranian women, we cannot."

Iranian women protest outside the World Cup qualifier in Tehran. (Twitter)

Women who travel from other countries to support the opposing teams are sometimes permitted into the stadium.

At Tuesday's match, Syrian women filled the stands, while Iranian women — some of whom had tickets — were turned away at the door.

Officials later blamed a computer glitch for allowing the Iranian women to buy tickets online. 

"The police said, 'If you want to enter the stadium you could go as a Syrian woman,' and we watched every Syrian woman go into the stadium, but they didn't allow us to go," she said.

"If we want to encourage our national team, we should be a fan of Syria. That's funny and also sad."

The incident has prompted some female Iranian MPs to speak out against a ban on women entering sports stadiums, reports the Guardian.

Syrian women were allowed to watch the match at the Azadi stadium in Tehran. (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA)

While she's a huge fan of soccer, the Iranian protester who spoke with As It Happens has only been to one national match — and in that case, she dressed up as a man.

"It was a really nice experience and I really liked it, but now we want to go as an Iranian woman. We don't want to go as a guy and we don't want to go as a Syrian woman. Why? It's our right."

Some of the women who were turned away on Tuesday joined the protesters outside, but that act of defiance was short-lived.

Police soon showed up and gave the women two options: Go home, or go to jail.

"They tore my banner and my papers," she said.

Iranian women watch the practice session of Iran's national soccer team from behind the railings in 2006 because they are banned from entering the Azadi stadium. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

This was her first time participating in a demonstration, but she vowed it will not be her last. 

"I think it's our work to force our government to do this, so we should try and try, and we want all of our countrymen to do this, and we want all of the people to support us," she said, calling on Iranian soccer players to lend their voices to the cause.

"We were a few, and if we want to come to a conclusion and if we want to get our rights, we should be more than this."

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