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Iran again bans women from football stadium

Iranian players celebrate scoring during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers football match with Lebanon, at the Imam Reza Stadium in the city of Mashhad
— Tehran (AFP)

Iran has once again denied women entry to a football stadium to watch an international match, leaving hundreds of ticketed fans locked out, Iranian media said Wednesday.

The World Cup qualifier against Lebanon on Tuesday night, won 2-0 by Iran, was played at the Imam Reza stadium in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

"About 2,000 Iranian women, who had bought tickets for the Iran-Lebanon match, were present in the perimeter of Imam Reza stadium, but could not enter the stadium," ISNA news agency said.

Iran's team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh joined in criticism of the lockout.

"I don't think anything would have happened if women had come to the stadium, and this could promote our culture," he said, quoted on IRIB state television.

Mohsen Davari, governor of Mashhad, told IRIB: "I apologise that many people couldn't enter the stadium..."

"Unfortunately, a large number of people outside the stadium were deprived of watching the game."

In the face of the controversy, President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday instructed the interior ministry to look into the incident.

For his part, Iran's attorney general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said on radio that "if conditions allowed the sale of tickets to women, a suitable place had to be found for them".

The case was "not acceptable... and shows poor management", he said.

In January, women were allowed to attend an international for the first time in almost three years, for a World Cup qualifier against Iraq.

The Islamic republic has generally barred female spectators from football and other sports stadiums since it was established in 1979.

Clerics, who play a major role in decision-making, argue women must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

But world football's governing body FIFA ordered Iran in September 2019 to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers to be determined according to demand for tickets.

The FIFA directive, threatening Iran's suspension from competitions, came after a fan, Sahar Khodayari, died having set herself on fire in fear of being jailed after trying to attend a match in disguise.

She had reportedly been detained in 2018 as she tried to enter a stadium dressed as a male.

Her death sparked an outcry, resulting in calls for Iran to be banned and its matches boycotted.

FIFA had been pushing for years for Iran to open its stadiums to women, but Tehran had until 2019 only allowed a limited number of women to attend matches on rare occasions.

"FIFA has heard with concerns reports that women were not allowed at the match in Mashhad yesterday and is asking the Iranian Football Federation more information on this matter," a FIFA spokesperson told AFP.

"(Our) position is clear: historic progress has been achieved – as exemplified by the milestone in October 2019, when thousands of women were allowed into the stadium for the first time in 40 years and more recently when some women were allowed again at the World Cup qualifier in Tehran in January.

"FIFA expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back."

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