OpinionIran in the World PressFIFA should take a stand against Iran

FIFA should take a stand against Iran

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The Globe and Mail: Today, I’ll be at the Portugal-Iran game in Group D of this thrilling World Cup. Group D has two first-string teams, Portugal and Mexico, and the underdogs are Iran and Angola. Portugal is the glamour team, although it struggled to beat Angola last weekend. But it’s Iran I’m thinking of today. The Globe and Mail

JOHN DOYLE

Columnists

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

FRANKFURT, GERMANY — Today, I’ll be at the Portugal-Iran game in Group D of this thrilling World Cup. Group D has two first-string teams, Portugal and Mexico, and the underdogs are Iran and Angola. Portugal is the glamour team, although it struggled to beat Angola last weekend. But it’s Iran I’m thinking of today.

Here’s the thing — I don’t think Iran should be at this World Cup. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association should have barred the country from participating.

It’s not about the crackpot opinions and addled behaviour of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. FIFA can’t do much about the man being an ill-informed wingnut on the subject of the Holocaust.

And it’s not a matter of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s a matter for governments to sort out. And, no, I don’t think Iran should have been barred from this World Cup because Ahmadinejad might turn up here and be celebrated by German neo-Nazis. The Germans can sort out the neo-Nazi problem here, and usually do.

It’s about soccer. It’s about women. Women are barred from attending soccer games in Iran. Any country that promulgates a system of sex apartheid in soccer should not be allowed to be here. It’s that simple.

From what I’ve read, Iranian women are barred from attending soccer games because they’re not allowed to see unfamiliar, non-family men with bare legs and arms or to be exposed to the possible foul language of the crowd.

Whatever. In Iran, women work in many areas of business and government. They work with men in offices and other places. There are women in Iran who are customs and immigration officers, police officers and taxi drivers. They run businesses. But if the national team of Iran is playing in its own country, women cannot attend.

Also, in Iran, apparently, women can play soccer, but must do so covered. Men cannot watch women playing soccer. No male coach is allowed to advise and train a women’s team. If a male coach is needed, he provides information by mobile phone or some other ludicrous system.

Excuse me, but soccer is the world’s game, not the men’s game. The FIFA women’s World Cup is an increasingly popular and important part of what FIFA does in governing world soccer and expanding the popularity of the sport.

It is simply hypocritical for FIFA to allow the participation of Iran in its international competitions when women’s status in Iranian soccer is that of outsiders, by law. There are many women working for FIFA. There are hundreds of female journalists covering this World Cup. There are tens of thousand of women attending the games.

As I see it, FIFA is insulting every woman involved in this World Cup by tacitly endorsing Iran’s policy of barring women from attending games. The Iranian authorities would change their rules darn fast if FIFA said the country would be eliminated from participation in international tournaments unless it allowed free access to everyone to attend games.

If Iran’s games were meaningless, the guys imposing the rules would change the rules, sharpish. FIFA barred South African from international competitions during the apartheid era. It can just as easily take a stand on Iran.

Of course, nobody can prevent women from attending Iran’s games in Germany. There were women in the crowd for the game against Mexico, and, yes, some were there cheering for Iran. On a platform at the train station in Berlin, on the morning of that game, I saw a family wearing Iran shirts.

It was mom and dad with a son and daughter. The mom and dad were painting the faces of both kids in Iran’s colours in preparation for the game. In Iran, they could forget about attending as a family.

It was that scene that reminded me that women are barred from attending games in Iran and underlined the repugnancy of the situation.

By allowing Iran’s participation here, FIFA is endorsing the suppression of women from a sport that’s played, followed and enjoyed by women. It’s not a political issue. It’s an issue of common decency.

Last month, an Associated Press story gave the world a poignant glimpse of the situation in Iran. It described a group of women protesting against their exclusion outside the stadium in Tehran in which the national team was playing a World Cup warm-up game. They stood outside the fence surrounding the stadium and shouted these questions: “Are we not Iranians? Are our cheers less important?”

The answers should come from FIFA, and Iran should be ordered to let women attend games or else face expulsion. This is supposed to be the beautiful game, not the boys-only game.

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