In March, Sahar was arrested by police trying to enter the main stadium in Teheran to watch a football match. Today, the 29-year-old lies in a hospital bed in critical condition, with life-threatening burns from a suicide attempt outside the courthouse where she faced charges for “improperly wearing hijab.”
Since 1981, Iran has banned female spectators from football and other stadiums. As a consequence, some women dress as men to access matches, posting photos on social media in protest, and others demonstrate in front of stadiums.
Sahar’s tragic arrest, jailing, and suicide attempt underscore the need for Iran to end its ban on women attending sports matches – and the urgency for regulating bodies like FIFA to enforce its own human rights rules.
Sahar’s sister told Rokna, an Iranian news outlet, that Sahar was trying to attend a football match when morality police arrested her in front of the country’s main sports complex, Azadi (Freedom) stadium. According to her sister, after the arrest Sahar was sent to Qarchak prison before being released on bail. Her sister also said that Sahar has bipolar disorder, and her mental health deteriorated while in prison. On the day of the suicide attempt, Sahar apparently learned from judicial authorities that she would have to serve 6 months in prison. She set herself on fire outside the court.
The stadium ban is not written into law or regulation but is ruthlessly enforced by the country’s authorities. Iran’s ban is a clear violation of the rules in FIFA’s constitution, the statutes, and human rights policy. Article 4 of the statutes says discrimination against women “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
In June, FIFA president Gianni Infantino warned the Iranian Federation that it must take concrete steps to allow women in stadiums or else face sanctions. In August, Iranian authorities arrested four women, including one award-winning photojournalist, for flouting the stadium ban. The four were later released on bail.
Following FIFA’s pressure, Iran’s sport officials have said that women will be allowed to watch the next national team game at the Azadi stadium – but that is not enough.
FIFA’s long delay in enforcing its own rules means the ban continues and leaves the brave women and girls in Iran who challenge the ban exposed to harassment, beatings, and arrests by the Iranian authorities. FIFA urgently needs to uphold its own human rights rules, end gender discrimination, and punish violators.