By Sahar Rezaei
November 15, 2021
The women’s football team from Sirjan municipality, Kerman province, has come second in the Asian Football Confederation’s 2021 Women’s Club Championship. With six points, Shahrdari Sirjan CSC came just behind Jordan’s Amman club, a major victory for the team.
The club began its activities in 2007, formed by current head coach Maryam Jahan Nejati. It quickly topped Iran’s second group league and Nejati brought it into the first group in 2009, largely off her own back with the help of fans and supporters. In 2011, then named Kowsar, the team took part in its first Pro League contest and came third.
But costs mounted, and soon donations from the public couldn’t keep Kowsar afloat. In 2014, Sirjan Municipality came to its aid. The city’s administrators agreed to cover the club’s costs, an unusual thing to happen for women’s sports teams in Iran. With this funding secured and under its new name, Shahrdari Sirjan went on to win the Pro League in 2015.
The club hasn’t looked back since. It takes part in Pro League competitions every year and its players also form part of the Iranian national women’s football team. In 2017 and 2020 they came third in the country; in 2018 and 2019 they made second place. In all these years, Maryam Jahan Nejati has remained in post as head coach.
A Shaky Start for the Women’s Club Championship
In March 2021, after beating the Isfahan-based Sepahan Ladies’ Football Club, the women of Shahrdari Sirjan CSC lifted the Pro League trophy once more, ending the reign of Bam Municipality. This qualified them for the Asian Women’s Club Championship: the first time Iran has ever had representatives at the tournament. They were matched in the West Asia group with Bunyodkaor of Uzbekistan, Gokulam Kerala of India and Aman Jordan, host of the competition.
The top two teams from West and East Asia are supposed to face off in the final. But this year due to heightened Covid-19 concerns in many East Asian countries, the AFC couldn’t find a suitable host; East Asian clubs refused to play in Jordan.
The AFC has been holding these contests on a trial basis since 2019, with the aim of boosting women’s football on the continent. But it has been a rocky start, compounded by the absence of East Asian footballers this year. The first season ended with the victory of the Japanese team Nippon TV Beleza, and last year’s games never went ahead due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Time will tell if the cup gets back on track next year.
Female Footballers Deserved Better from IRIB and AFC
Iranian female athletes are well-accustomed to TV and media outlets snubbing their competitions. Instead they make efforts to publicize their achievements online. Recently members of Shahrdari Sirjan CFC joined a high-profile video call between Dragan Skocic, the head coach of the men’s national team, the men’s captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh and player Hossein Kanaanizadegan. It was a show of unity, and well-received by fans.
The IRIB did not so much as broadcast the club’s beautiful flower logo during the face-off with Gokulam Kerala. But footage of the games broadcast live on the Jordanian Football Federation’s YouTube Channel were shared far and wide in cyberspace. Player Zahra Alizadeh’s nasty injury was not shown on TV either – the IRIB has little interest in the sacrifices players make for sport if they are women – but fans followed her condition online right up until she left Amman Hospital.