For Iran’s women, India is home away from home
When Iran played against India in Bengaluru this past week, it was not only a big occasion for Indian football but also for Iran’s female fans as they turned up in big numbers to watch their football heroes defeat India with ease.Iranian women have been banned from attending sport events in their country since 1982. In football, the ban has lived on despite violating Article Three of FIFA statutes which prohibits discrimination of any kind. The match in Bengaluru thus gave Iranian women a welcome chance to watch their team in action.
Women were seen enjoying the match, taking selfies and cheering on the star players – a far cry from the situation back home where women had been arrested for trying to sneak into sporting events. The sizable Iranian population residing in India came down from all corners of the country for the game in Bengaluru, creating a carnival atmosphere at the stadium with their energetic support.
Meren Sha, an Iranian national currently studying in Bangalore was delighted with Iran’s comprehensive win over India, “We had a good time. We had even come to the ground yesterday to see the team train and today we waited for hours, the team performed well, scored 3 goals so we are happy with the result”. However, the basic right of enjoying a sporting event eludes women like Meren in their homeland. Sara (name changed), an Iranian national lamented the situation, “In Iran, women are still not allowed at the stadium. Lot of women have been arrested over the years for trying to sneak into stadiums”.
In response to the injustice suffered by Iranian women, Darya Safai, a human rights activist from Iran, now living in Belgium, set up the “Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums” campaign. Darya fled Iran during the student protests in 2000, and has since lived in Belgium. A dentist by profession, when she is not fixing up root canals, she is usually running the campaign to fight the injustice against Iranian women.
Speaking to The Manipal Journal, Darya explains, “After successfully campaigning with the Volleyball Federation, we wanted to focus on football. I wrote a letter to (then) FIFA President Sepp Blatter and searched for people to sign it together with me. The letter to Blatter was supported and signed by more than 200 prominent Iranian activists, including Dr. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2003. The letter was sent to Sepp Blatter on the 6th of February 2015. It was also spread by the international media.”
While Blatter maintained that FIFA was doing its best to undo this injustice, which included meeting Iranian Prez Hassan Rouhani over putting the issue on the political agenda, Darya felt that FIFA had not applied enough pressure on Iran to do so. “On March 31 we went to Sweden for the friendly football game between Sweden-Iran. We protested with our campaign and almost 35,000 tickets were sold to Iranian fans. Thousands of Iranian women cheered for the National Team. There was a lot of interest in the campaign by the Swedish and International media. Thousands of people supported the campaign by wearing its T-shirts”. Iranian women turned again for the away matches in Australia and recently in India.
Darya argues that the discrimination against Iranian women could have deeper social issues tied to it. “The regime is against the presence of women everywhere and they always use the excuse: ‘It is against Islamic laws’. They want to push Iranian women out of the society and keep them home; silent and suppressed, which is the best for the regime”.
Today, the protests are preventing the country from hosting international sporting events which has forced the administration to finally put the issue of the stadium ban on women on the political agenda. Hopefully in the future, Iranian women do not have to travel to Stockholm, Canberra or Bengaluru to watch their favourite football stars.
Edited by Sakhi Todi