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FIFA Says Tehran 'Assured' It That Women Can Get Into Next Soccer Match

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Iranian President Hassan Rohani (right) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino hold up a soccer shirt with Rohani's name during Infantino's visit to Tehran in March 2018.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino says soccer's world governing body "cannot wait any more" and has been "assured" by Tehran that the authorities will allow women spectators into the arena when Iran hosts its next international match.

Infantino's September 22 comments follow a FIFA delegation visit to Iran over the conservative Shi'ite leadership's longtime ban on women at major men's sporting events -- a policy that turned more tragic with the recent death of a young woman who was being punished for trying to sneak into a stadium disguised as a man.

Iran is scheduled to play Cambodia in a 2022 World Cup qualifier on October 10 at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

"In these productive discussions, FIFA reiterated its firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely and that the number of women who attend the stadiums be determined by the demand, resulting in ticket sales," FIFA said in a September 21 statement summarizing the delegation's visit to Tehran and Azadi Stadium.

FIFA further said it would work with Iran's national soccer federation, the FFIRI, to ensure that women spectators could get into the Iranian soccer league's matches in future.

The delegation "discussed the need to open stadiums for women to attend national matches. In that respect, FIFA announced that it will, based on the operational plans and results of the [October 10] game, collaborate with the FFIRI in developing an operational protocol and related requirements for matches in the Iranian football league to be opened for women as well."

There was a social outcry upon news that 29-year-old Iranian Sahar Khodayari had died earlier this month after dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself alight on September 2 following charges over her bid to see a match in March.

Iranian officials have sometimes allowed select groups of women into specific areas to watch soccer matches or other men's sporting events in the past, but have resolutely held the line for nearly four decades at general admission for women.

Khodayari, nicknamed "The Blue Girl" after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, had reportedly suffered burns over 90 percent of her body in the self-immolation.

A sister had told RFE/RL that the girl suffered from bipolar disorder and that her mental state had deteriorated after her arrest and hearing that she could spend six months in prison.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has mostly failed to deliver on pledges to open up some aspects of Iranian society, including reforms that could help lift Iranian women from distant second-class status under the law.

FIFA has received frequent criticism for its perceived failure to confront Iran's and others' gender-based discrimination.

On August 25, Iranian Deputy Sports Minister Jamshid Tahizade announced that women would be allowed to attend the Cambodia match.

But Tehran has dithered on the issue in the past, apparently prompting the FIFA visit this month.

"FIFA's position is firm and clear," the group said in its recent statement. "Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches."

With reporting by Reuters
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