The Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA), a global coalition of NGOs and trade unions committed to embedding human rights and anti-corruption in world sport, is dismayed by the tragic events last month in Iran, in which Sahar Khodayari, 29 years old, died from her wounds after setting herself on fire outside the court where she faced charges for “appearing in public without a hijab.”
The charges followed her arrest outside the Azadi (“Freedom”) Stadium, where she was trying to enter to watch her football team play. FIFA should be gravely concerned for the safety of the women and girls challenging the exclusion of Iranian women from regular ticket sales, including a cap on the number of tickets available to women, segregated seating with hazardous fencing and police intimidation, and unequal stadium access for football matches in Iran. It is time for consequences for the Iranian Football Federation (FFIRI) and its leadership for violating FIFA’s rules on human rights and non-discrimination, in light of FIFA’s responsibilities and commitments under business and human rights standards and its own human rights policy.
We are alarmed by reports that, despite FIFA’s visit to Tehran last month, for the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Iran and Cambodia tomorrow at Azadi Stadium the football authorities in Iran have once again allocated only a token number of seats (less than 5,000 of the 100,000-seat Azadi Stadium). This cap on seats and ticket sales increases the danger to female fans, journalists and activists who will be forced to go to greater lengths to demonstrate that the unequal seating allocation and sale of tickets made on the basis of gender is still discrimination that violates FIFA’s rules. We fear that the situation will lead to more arrests of women and girls who show up at the stadium to attempt to buy tickets and enter to watch the match.
For years, courageous Iranian female activists, football fans and journalists have directly asked you to enforce FIFA’s own rules that the FFIRI and its leadership are clearly violating, including (as applicable) Article 3 on human rights and Article 4 on non-discrimination in the FIFA Statutes and Article 22 on non-discrimination and Article 23 on duty to protect the physical and mental integrity of others in the Code of Ethics. The claims of Iranian women football fans and activists—including the likely serious consequences if the gender discrimination remains in place, without sanction by FIFA—were laid out in an official complaint filed to the FIFA Ethics Committee on 5 April 2019. We include the link to the complaint here and request information on its status, as it has been six months since it was filed.
Furthermore, these restrictions on women and girls entering football stadiums affect sports journalists and their work, both female journalists who cover sports including men’s football and all journalists who try to report on the struggles of female fans. Journalists may face heightened risks of retaliation by the government if they cover the presence of female fans at tomorrow’s match and future matches. This risk is highlighted by the case of Forough Alaei, the 2019 World Press photo awardee, who was recently detained due to her coverage of the female fans at past matches. She is now freed on bail and faces potential sentencing.
The SRA has repeatedly written to you to highlight the discrimination to which FIFA’s inaction is contributing, and today we urge you to recognize that urgent action by FIFA is necessary to avoid contributing to further human rights abuses, including harm caused to women and girls protesting continued stadium restrictions. Likewise, your Human Rights Advisory Board, in its public reports to you in 2018 and 2019, explicitly called for FIFA to use its leverage and be clear about the timeframe for expected compliance and the sanctions at your disposal under the FIFA Statutes and Disciplinary Code and Ethics. Instead, FIFA’s actions continue to follow diplomatic and political channels, as if these rules and standards don’t exist.
To meet its responsibility to respect human rights and its own organizational rules and human rights policy, FIFA must:
- fully execute the powers it has at its disposal to deal with this matter if the restrictions (including a cap) on women purchasing tickets and freely entering stadiums are not fully lifted beginning tomorrow.
- ensure women and girls are able to attend all football matches in Iran, including domestic league matches.
- demand that the Iranian journalists who cover the upcoming World Cup qualifier matches and domestic league matches face no retaliation for covering the presence of female fans.
- demand that all women and girls who have are facing prosecution in relation to attempting to defy the discriminatory ban have their charges dropped or sentences quashed and that those negatively impacted by the FFIRI’s flagrant violation of FIFA’s rules are compensated, including support for the family of Sahar Khodayari.
- take immediate action with the SRA and the Center for Sport and Human Rights to establish an effective grievance mechanism, which the victims of discrimination, violence and harassment can access directly.
- fully review its role in this matter, particularly the failures in FIFA’s governance structure that need to be reformed.
Article 4 of FIFA’s Statutes says that discrimination against women is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.” We request FIFA to publicly disclose the sanctions it will impose on the FFIRI and its leadership (as applicable) if they do not fully comply with the provisions in FIFA’s Statutes and Code of Ethics on human rights and non-discrimination. The match tomorrow is an opportunity for Iran to lift the ban fully and definitively, and failure to do that should mean FIFA will deploy the full powers in its Statutes in response.
Sport & Rights Alliance
Football Supporters Europe (FSE)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
UNI Global Union
World Players Association