October 10, 2019
Women reporters and photojournalists in Iran have been inundating the country’s sports ministry with requests for press cards to cover the national football team’s game against Cambodia, which will take place at Azadi Stadium in Tehran on October 10.
But they have been appealing to the wrong authority. The real obstacles preventing them from doing their jobs are the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and the National Police Special Units (NPSU). IRIB’s Network 3 Pro Football TV program has issued direct orders forbidding the Iranian National Football Federation from issuing press cards to Iranian women, and the commander of the NPSU has also confirmed his force’s opposition to female journalists covering the match.
In an interview with Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, General Hasan Karami said he was opposed to “the presence of women in sports stadiums” — this despite the International Football Federation’s (FIFA) recent announcement that the October 10 World Cup qualifying game between Iran and Cambodia would mark the opening of all Iranian football stadiums to women.
“Our society is run based on principles and morality,” Karami said, adding that the presence of women in stadiums goes against “customs and traditions” and it would “perpetuate disorder” in Iranian society.
Visiting the headquarters of Fars News Agency, General Karami claimed that he had previously made his opposition to women being allowed into Azadi Stadium clear. “In various meetings,” he told reporters, “police have expressed their opposition to the presence of women in the stadiums because they know the premises is not ready for their presence, and might inflict harm on their dignity.” He reiterated that this opposition resulted from “respect for women and their dignity.” Nevertheless, he added, “the police will provide the necessary cooperation for the presence of women in the game between Iran and Cambodia” and would deploy “female agents who have received necessary training.”
“We have taken the necessary precaution for controlling women,” he added.
This is not the first time that Commander Karami has used the phrase “controlling women.” Prior to the recent statements to Fars, he had said that the police and his special units would deploy 150 trained female agents to control women at Azadi Stadium.
On Tuesday, October 8, the state-owned newspaper Iran Varzeshi (“Iran Sports”) reported that Iranian state TV might not broadcast the game between Iran and Cambodia because of the “presence of women.” But Mehdi Hashemi, the producer of the TV program Pro Football, denied such reports.“The presence of women is not something that will affect our decisions,” he said. “We did not have any problems with the live broadcasts of volleyball and basketball games when women spectators were present, did we?” Hashemi pointed out that during these volleyball and basketball games, the faces of female spectators were broadcast on TV, but he said he did not know whether the same thing would happen during the upcoming football game or not — implicitly confirming that Iranian TV will not show any images of women spectators during the October 10 sporting event.
Censoring female spectators from live broadcasts during football games has been normal practice for Iranian TV. It occured during two games between Iran and Bolivia and also during the final game of the Asian Champions League, when women spectators the ministry of sports and the Iranian Football Federation had handpicked watched the games in Azadi Stadium.
“Let’s go to a commercial”
On November 11, 2018, the Ministry of Sports and Youth selected a group of women to watch the Asian Champions League final between Persepolis FC and Japan’s Kashima Antlers. The ministry put on a show of these chosen women entering the stadium while FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino was watching. But then when Infantino, accompanied by the head of Iran’s football federation, Mehdi Taj, started walking toward the area where women spectators were seated in order to talk to them, state-run TV interrupted its live broadcast and switched to commercials.
Conspicuously, what IRIB’s producer Mehdi Hashemi and General Hasan Karami did not talk about with reporters during recent interviews was their dogged efforts to prevent women reporters and photojournalists from entering Azadi Stadium to cover the Cambodia-Iran game on October 10.
“From this morning until now I have been commuting between the sports ministry and the football federation, carrying letters,” Parto Joghtaee, an Iranian woman journalist, tweeted on October 8 [Persian link]. “The ministry says that it is the federation that must approve it and the federation says that it is the job of the ministry. But, in the meantime, foreign reporters and photographers have received their press cards.”
Joghtaee is not the only Iranian woman journalist who has been trying hard, with no success, to get a press card for the Iran-Cambodia game. What she and other reporters may not know is that a couple of days earlier, IRIB’s Mehdi Hashemi had told the football federation: “If women photographers stand next to the field, IRIB will not broadcast the game.”
It is clear why IRIB opposes the presence of women journalists and photographers at Azadi Stadium. Photographers position themselves around the playing field or behind the goal, meaning that they could appear in most shots going out to the press — there would be no way to “ignore” them. Similarly, female reporters would be present at the control room and the press conference, where more than 10 IRIB cameras will be filming the proceedings.
On October 7, FIFA announced: “Iran cannot keep out Iranian women reporters and photographers.” However, it would appear that Iran has decided to go its own way and violate these clear rules set by FIFA.
According to FIFA, Youri Djorkaeff, the retired star of the French national football team, is scheduled to travel to Iran and attend Azadi Stadium on October 10 to supervise the process of women spectators entering the stadium. But, as of now, neither women fans nor women journalists and photographers have been successful in contacting Djorkaeff to inform FIFA of the situation.