Iranian women again barred from football stadium, met with teargas

A female football fan on the fence outside of the Mashhad stadium.
A female football fan on the fence outside of the Mashhad stadium. © Observers

Iran barred women from entering a football stadium to watch a World Cup qualification match in the northeastern city of Mashhad on March 29. Hundreds of female fans with tickets were denied entry to a match between Iran and Lebanon and gathered outside the stadium in protest. Police responded with tear gas and crowd control tactics, eliciting widespread outrage and calls for Iran to be banned from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.


The final match of the Qatar World Cup qualifications between Iran and Lebanon was held in Mashhad, Iran – one of the holiest cities for Shia Muslims – on March 29. Many Iranians had already purchased their tickets for the finals in Doha, anticipating that this match would clinch a spot for Iran in the World Cup. 

In spite of the pandemic, Iranian officials allowed spectators to attend the qualifying match. Around 12,500 fans bought tickets to watch Iran face off against Lebanon, including 2,000 women, according to the ISNA news agency. However when the gates were opened for supporters, police did not allow women to enter the stadium. 

Female football fans outside the stadium in Mashhad, chanting in protest of women being barred entry to the match.

Videos published on social media showed these women peacefully chanting in protest. They were met with a fierce police response, as officers used teargas and batons to disperse the crowd.

Other videos showed women doubled over in pain after being beaten. Some women washed their faces with water and used cigarette smoke to counteract the effects of the teargas.

A video posted on Twitter on March 30, 2022 shows women in front of the stadium in Mashhad attempting to assuage the effects of teargas.
A video posted on Twitter on March 30, 2022 shows security forces using teargas to disperse a crowd of women. Angered women, including some wearing conservative black chadors, kicked the gates of the stadium in protest.

>> Read more on The Observers: Iran’s #BlueGirl dies after setting herself on fire in football-ban protest

Only certain female supporters allowed in previous matches

Other than the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Iran was the only FIFA member country to bar women from football stadiums to watch men’s matches. Iran has banned females from football and other sports matches since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979.

FIFA, the world’s governing body for football, ordered Iran to allow women into stadiums in September 2019.  

Despite these directives, our Observers in Iran have told us that only a handful of women have been allowed to attend Iranian national team matches in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, such as the match against South Korea in October 2021 and against Iraq in January 2022.

Certain women were specially selected by authorities to attend the matches, in order to reduce domestic and international pressure on the Iranian Football Federation, according to our Observers and confirmed by media reports.

But at the March 29 match in Mashhad, there were no women allowed into the stadium – not even hand-picked spectators.

‘I hope FIFA will ban Iran from the World Cup’

Videos of the police response to the women protesting outside the stadium elicited outrage from Iranians. Some Iranian men said they would boycott football matches in solidarity. Others suggested that Iran’s national football team should be banned from the Qatar World Cup, like Russian teams following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Some Iranian MPs claimed they would investigate what happened in Mashhad, such as Mojtaba Tavangar who promised to question the Minister of Sports after the Iranian New Year vacation.

President Ebrahim Raisi on March 30 ordered the interior ministry to look into the incident.

“It’s sad but I hope that FIFA, in reaction to this scandalous event in Mashhad and bullying by the government, bans Iran from participating in the Doha World Cup. In this situation, there’s no more fun in attending the football matches nor watching them on TV,” reads this Tweet.
“Not letting women in the stadiums is not news, beating them up is not news. They put some puppets in Tehran [Editor’s note: the hand-picked women allowed to attend matches in Tehran]. I hope they suspend us. We do not deserve to attend the World Cup.”

FIFA has not yet commented on the events in Mashhad. A member of the Iranian Football Federation, however, said on March 30 that the attention would likely mean bad news for Iran’s football team in the coming days.