Iran faces fresh criticism after women barred from attending World Cup 2022 qualifier

Incident occurred at match against Lebanon in Mashhad on Tuesday

Supporters watch the 2022 World Cup qualifier between Iran and Lebanon at the Imam Reza Stadium in Mashhad, Iran, on March 29, 2022. AFP
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A large number of ticket holders got locked out after Iran once again denied women entry to watch football at stadium, local media said on Wednesday.

The incident happened at the World Cup 2022 qualifier against Lebanon on Tuesday, which was won 2-0 by Iran, at the Imam Reza stadium in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

"About 2,000 Iranian women, who had bought tickets for the Iran-Lebanon match, were present in the perimeter of Imam Reza stadium, but could not enter the stadium," ISNA news agency said.

Iran's captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh joined in criticism of the lockout.

"I don't think anything would have happened if women had come to the stadium, and this could promote our culture," he was quoted as saying by IRIB state television.

Mohsen Davari, governor of Mashhad, told IRIB: "I apologise that many people couldn't enter the stadium. Unfortunately, a large number of people outside the stadium were deprived of watching the game."

Following the controversy, President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday instructed the interior ministry to look into the incident.

Iran's attorney general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said on radio that "if conditions allowed the sale of tickets to women, a suitable place had to be found for them". The case was "not acceptable... and shows poor management", he said.

In January, women were allowed to attend international football for the first time in almost three years, for a World Cup qualifier against Iraq.

Football's governing body Fifa had ordered Iran in September 2019 to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers to be determined according to demand for tickets.

Fifa had been pushing for years for Iran to open its stadiums to women, but Tehran had until 2019 only allowed a limited number of women to attend matches and that too on rare occasions.

"Fifa has heard with concerns reports that women were not allowed at the match in Mashhad yesterday and is asking the Iranian Football Federation more information on this matter," a Fifa spokesperson told AFP.

"[Our] position is clear: historic progress has been achieved - as exemplified by the milestone in October 2019, when thousands of women were allowed into the stadium for the first time in 40 years and more recently when some women were allowed again at the World Cup qualifier in Tehran in January.

"Fifa expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back."

Updated: March 31, 2022, 6:05 AM