FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been urged to expel Iran from the World Cup because of the country’s treatment of female football supporters.
The Open Stadiums campaign group claimed previous commitments by FIFA to encourage Iran to change its ways amounted to “empty words and promises”.
The group said Iran has systemically kept women away from football stadiums “for over four decades”, calling it a “gross human rights violation”.
Pointing to “shameful scenes” of women being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed when attempting to attend a World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in March, Open Stadiums said: “All this was happening, Mr Infantino, under your watch and, seemingly, with FIFA’s protection and approval, judging by your organisation’s inaction.”
It labelled a commitment to allow women into the Azadi Stadium as “a short-term PR stunt” to boost the Iranian Football Association’s image before the World Cup begins in November.
Iran are due to play England, Wales and the United States in the group stage, facing England in their opening Group B game on November 21.
The death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody in September after she allegedly refused to comply with hijab rules sparked outrage among Iranian women, followed by what Open Stadiums describes as a “brutal clampdown by the regime”.
In its open letter to FIFA, the group also pointed to Sahar Khodayari, the woman known as ‘Blue Girl’, who attempted to attend a football game dressed as a man in 2019 but was spotted and arrested for flouting hijab rules. She died by suicide, reportedly because she expected to be sent to prison.
Open Stadiums said there was a clear ongoing case of “government interference”, with a number of sports journalists and photographers “arrested and left in solitary confinement with no charges brought against them”, and a footballer and fan group leader killed by Iranian authorities.
FIFA rules do not allow governments to wade into sporting matters. Open Stadiums claims the Iranian FA “remains untouched and seemingly beyond reproach by FIFA”, and described the country’s football authority as both “an accomplice of the crimes of the regime” and “a direct threat to the security of female fans in Iran and wherever our national team plays in the world”.
As Iranian football fans, with heavy heart we asked FIFA, due to ongoing human rights violation based on Articles 3-4 of its statutes, immediately expel Iran from #Qatar2022 Worldcup.
— OpenStadiums (@openStadiums) September 30, 2022
The group fears Iranian women who travel to the Qatar 2022 finals will be kept “in check” by travelling undercover state agents, warning of possible revenge on women’s rights activists and female football fans following the tournament.
“That is why, as Iranian football fans, it is with an extremely heavy heart that we have to raise our deepest concern about Iran’s participation in the upcoming FIFA World Cup,” the group said in its letter to Infantino.
“Why would FIFA give the Iranian state and its representatives a global stage, while it not only refuses to respect basic human rights and dignities, but is currently torturing and killing its own people? Where are the principles of FIFA’s statutes in this regard?
“Therefore, we ask FIFA … to immediately expel Iran from the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
“The Islamic Republic’s authorities and its football federation must not be given the honour of participating in football’s finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets.
“Mr Infantino, FIFA needs to act now to protect Iran’s dedicated and passionate female football fans.”