In October, for the first time in 40 years, Iranian women were allowed into a sports stadium to watch their national team play.
They were permitted to witness the soccer match against Cambodia, after FIFA, the international federation governing football, or soccer, pressured Iran to abide by its commitment to allow women access to international games, in accordance with FIFA’s anti-discrimination rules.
Iran’s acquiescence came after worldwide outrage at the death of Sahar Khodayari, who has come to be known as “Blue Girl.” She was arrested in March trying to enter Azadi stadium in Tehran and reportedly faced a prison sentence of six months. In September she committed suicide by setting herself on fire outside the courthouse.
Speaking to reporters, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook praised FIFA for its strong response to Iran’s prohibition against women in stadiums, showing that when the international community pressures Iran, its behavior can change.
“FIFA stood up to the regime and drove up the cost of them continuing to deny women from attending soccer games. . .Pressure works. It works with this regime.”
Observers have noted that the regime’s yielding to FIFA’s demand that Iranian women be allowed to watch international soccer matches is a small step on a long and difficult continuum of Iranian women obtaining their rights.
Iranian women suffer discrimination in many areas, including in the legal, employment, and domestic realms, while their defenders are subject to judicial harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment.
Special Representative Hook noted the leadership role played by women in recent demonstrations in Iran:
“When you look at the energy, sort of the protest movement in Iran, it’s with the women around the compulsory hijab and also around the soccer.”
He emphasized that the United States’ policy of economic and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime to induce it to change its behavior is aimed at Iran’s leaders’ pragmatic side, which, he said, “Occasionally they will put on display when they think that they’re at risk. We saw that with FIFA” after the organization pressured Iran.
Special Representative Hook emphasized that a “big pillar” of what the United States is doing in its approach to Iran “is standing with the Iranian people.”