Female soccer fans hoping to attend a FIFA match in Iran’s second-largest city Tuesday were barred by security guards and pepper-sprayed after they gathered outside the stadium.
The incident occurred in Mashhad during a FIFA qualifier game between Iran and Lebanon.
Around 2000 female fans of the Iranian team were able to purchase tickets online in anticipation of the game but were stopped from entering the stadium when they arrived for the match. After mounting a chant of ‘We object!’ the women were pepper-sprayed to force them to disperse.
Videos of large numbers of scattered women suffering from the pepper spray attack circulated online but were censored by Iran’s regime. It is unknown at this time who ordered the use of the pepper spray.
Some FIFA fans are calling for the international soccer organization to punish Iran for the incident by limiting their team’s participation in FIFA leagues and the World Cup. The Iranian team won its Tuesday match against Lebanon.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women in Iran have been officially banned from live sports viewership, but FIFA applied its influence and starting in 2019, Iran began to allow women into stadiums for large FIFA qualifier matches. It is unclear why the women were suddenly and violently dispersed and not allowed to watch this match. As recently as January, some women were allowed to attend a FIFA match in Tehran.
The scene recalled the headlines the Taliban made last week when in neighboring Afghanistan they dispersed schoolgirls who showed up for classes by shooting their rifles into the air to scare the girls away.
Following the widespread outrage, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi asked for an investigation into who deployed and directed the use of the pepper spray against the female fans. The Iranian Attorney General said it was wrong for ticketed fans to be barred from entry.
Radio Free Liberty reports that the Iranian Football Federation claimed that only nine female fans had purchased tickets. But during the post-game presser, the Iranian team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh seemed to be aware of the broader nature of the incident. During his interview, broadcasted live, Jahanbakhsh said he hoped that going forward, women would also be able to spectate and enjoy the matches. When State TV replayed the interview, his comments about female fans were censored and cut out of the broadcast.