A week before International Women’s Day on March 8, thirty-five women and girls dressed as men were arrested in Iran while attempting to sneak into a popular annual soccer match. The women, the youngest of whom was 13, were forcibly removed from the premises of the Tehran Derby and “transferred to a proper place.”
The ban on women attending any sports event in Iran, other than all-female matches in which the players are required to wear full Islamic dress, is but one of many issues at the root of the current mass protests across the country against the oppressive and repressive ayatollah-led regime, which came to power nearly four decades ago. Over the years, sports have been used by both male and female anti-regime activists as a symbol of freedom, as it was one of the first areas after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ousted the Shah and ushered in the reign of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to be considered by the ruling mullahs as a dangerous expression of secularism.
The reason that this year’s Tehran Derby was of particular interest – and not only to sports fans — was the attendance of world soccer’s top official, Gianni Infantino. As Infantino is the president of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), his arrival at the match was seen by freedom-seeking Iranians as an opportunity to force their government to lift the ban on women spectators.