Iran's soccer fans hold a sign calling for Iranian women to be let into sports stadiums during the 2018 FIFA World Cup game between Morocco and Iran at Saint Petersburg Stadium on June 15, 2018.
Lukasz Laskowski—PressFocus—MB Media/Getty Images
By Sanya Mansoor
September 22, 2019

FIFA said Saturday in an unambiguous statement that Iran must admit women into its soccer games. The sport’s global governing body stated “women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a conference on Sunday that Iranian officials assured FIFA that “women will be allowed to enter football stadiums,” according to the BBC. “This is something very important — in 40 years this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions.”

The announcement comes the same month that a female Iranian soccer fan set herself on fire, after learning that she could be imprisoned for six months because she snuck into a stadium to watch a match, according to the Associated Press. Sahar Khodayari, 29, was detained by police after an altercation and released after three nights in jail, pending her court case, the AP reported. Her self immolation prompted international condemnation, with human rights organizations calling Iran’s policy on gender in soccer stadiums a “discriminatory ban.”

“What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heart-breaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country,” Phillip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said in a statement two weeks ago in reaction to Khodayari’s death. “Her only ‘crime’ was being a woman in a country where women face discrimination that is entrenched in law and plays out in the most horrific ways imaginable in every area of their lives, even sports.”

Luther’s statement said that it appears “Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women seeking to enter football stadiums” and that “the discriminatory ban must end immediately.”

FIFA and the Iranian government seem closer to doing just that.

“I am hopeful that the Iranian Federation and the Iranian authorities were receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation,” FIFA president Infantino previously said in a statement on Thursday.

FIFA said in its statement on Saturday said that there are “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to these changes being adopted at the Azadi stadium in Tehran as soon as Oct. 10, when Iran is scheduled to play Cambodia for a World Cup qualifier match for the tournament in Qatar in 2022.

This is not the first time that FIFA has become embroiled in controversy about women’s issues in Iran. Back in 2011, critics decried the organization’s decision to ban the Iranian women’s national soccer team from an Olympic qualifier because of their headscarves. The team ended up forfeiting a game against Jordan because they did not want to play without their headscarves.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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