Infantino says women will ‘soon’ be allowed at games in Iran

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ZURICH: FIFA President Gianni Infantino received assurances from Iran that female fans will “soon” be allowed into soccer stadiums after they were blocked from getting into a game he attended in Tehran.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency cited the interior ministry as saying about 35 women were stopped from entering the Azadi Stadium on Thursday for a game between Esteqlal and Persepolis and “were instructed to a proper place by police.”

Amid criticism of the trip, Infantino opened a FIFA equality conference on Friday by claiming the trip could help “many women around the world” while acknowledging he was reluctant to be heard “criticizing anyone.”

“I hope, I am confident, I was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon,” Infantino said at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. “We will see but I hope this experience which I made only yesterday afternoon can maybe help many, many women around the world.”

Infantino did not specify who made the pledge, nor did he address the fact only men are allowed into Iranian stadiums during a speech in the country on Thursday. There was only passing reference to women’s soccer in the address in Tehran.

“Of course for a big country like Iran much more can be done,” Infantino said. “So my plea to all of you men and women, let’s develop and encourage women’s football because we need to care about 50 percent of our population.”

While Infantino did use the speech to tell Iran “much more can be done,” that was in reference to the awarding of television rights.

Iran has disregarded previous pleas from FIFA to open its stadiums to women. Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, used stronger language in 2015 to express frustration at the lack of progress. Blatter said he was given the impression in 2013 by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the “intolerable situation could change over the medium term.”

“This cannot continue,” Blatter wrote on the FIFA website in 2015. “Hence, my appeal to the Iranian authorities; open the nation’s football stadiums to women.”