Female Iran fans fear state ‘spotters’ are spying on them at World Cup games

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The woman became hysterical and stood outside the Khalifa International Stadium sobbing.

She is Iranian and although she no longer lives in the country, she thought she had recognized someone who does: a man she believes was an Iranian government official whom she saw filming her and other women before and during the 6-2 England win against Iran. at the World Cup.

Where am I safe?

Another — we haven’t identified any of the women in this article to protect their safety — says she saw a man in the stands with binoculars on Monday, consistently looking at the crowd instead of the field. She describes another man alone in a suit, apparently filming a group of women in hijab behind him and then going elsewhere, ostensibly to keep an eye on other sections of the supporters.

Female Iranian activists expected these so-called “mockers” or “spies” to be in Qatar and claim they represent the Iranian state.

Women are not legally allowed to attend football matches in Iran. In Doha they can, and yet many here, at the World Cup, feel they are still being monitored and controlled, and they are concerned about the possible consequences. Complaints have been reported online through FIFA’s Human Rights Complaints Process, which allows people to submit reports online for review by an “independent expert reviewer”.

Human rights researcher Emma Walley said: “Ultimately, football should be for everyone. Iranian women are in a country where they are allowed to attend football matches, but they can still be monitored instead.

Open Stadiums, a movement to end discrimination against women in Iran, wrote to FIFA in September calling for Iran’s exclusion from the tournament and addressing the issue.

“Without consequences for the Iranian Football Federation and its leaders,” the letter said, “we are also rightly concerned that once the FIFA World Cup concludes in December, the Islamic Republic will retaliate against Open Stadiums women’s rights activists and against female football fans. general.”

Protests against the regime have erupted across Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September. She died after being captured by Iran’s “morality police,” a police force deployed by the state to enforce Islamic dress codes, as she left a subway station after being accused of not covering her hair properly.

Iran will play against the US on Tuesday. Both of Iran’s first two games at the World Cup – a 6-2 defeat to England and a 2-0 win over Wales – were dominated by pro- and anti-government supporters using the platform of a major tournament to express their feelings.

Iranian players chose not to sing the national anthem – an act censored by Iran’s state television – before facing England. Many moved their lips when it was played as Iran prepared to face Wales, but the anthem was roundly laughed at by many in the stands.

Women and men also say they have been detained in Qatar for wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom” in World Cup stadiums. Others say they have been told to take them off before they can get through security.

Items with “political, offensive or discriminatory messages” will be banned from stadiums during the tournament and security will be organized by the host country rather than FIFA.

“The human rights of women are a universal right,” says a spokesperson for Fare, a network that fights discrimination in football. “Whether they are expressed in a public square, a football stadium or a street, we respect women’s rights to assert them.

“The fact that very innocuous banners and T-shirts have been removed from stadiums during this World Cup and some people say they have been arrested as a result is a major cause for concern.

“Some of the targets also claim that Iranian state forces are present to ensure that banners and T-shirts are removed. We have no explicit confirmation of that.”

There are close ties between Iran and Qatar. In December 2017, the Iranian and Qatari football federations signed a memorandum of understanding to “strengthen Qatari-Iranian relations,” said Iran Football Federation president Mehdi Taj. The timing was important, just three months after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism – a claim Qatar vehemently denied.

In December 2021, after the blockade was lifted, another four-year “memorandum of cooperation” was agreed, allowing Iran and Qatar to work together to host friendlies and training camps.

Walley said: “It will be interesting to see in the game between the US (against Iran) how many people are still trying to wear T-shirts or have banners and things like that to show their support? Because people might be more scared now.

“I think, as in the context of sport and human rights, if people don’t feel they can safely go to this match, then what’s the point? Sport should be a place where people have the platform to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

“It’s really powerful when you have something like the World Cup and so many people are watching, these women want to spread their message because they know everyone is watching. This makes it even clearer that sport and human rights cannot be separated.”

A Qatari government official said: “For the safety of all those attending the World Cup, the State of Qatar has ensured that enhanced security measures are in place during matches with notably high levels of tension among fans, including those involving the Iranian football team.

“Before every match, a risk assessment is carried out and security means are deployed in every stadium. As with all World Cup tournaments, items that could heighten tensions and compromise fan safety are not allowed.

“All security personnel at the stadiums report to the State of Qatar and are there to ensure the safety of all in attendance. There are no Iranian security personnel working as part of the Security and Safety Operations Committee (SSOC) for the World Cup.

“There were no significant incidents during Iran’s first game against England. After Iran’s second match, security teams were called in to deal with a small number of altercations between Iranian fans outside the stadium. These incidents were handled quickly and with appropriate force to de-escalate tensions and ensure the safety of all fans attending the match. Officials will continue to ensure that every match at the World Cup in Qatar is safe and welcoming for all spectators.”

FIFA, the Iranian FA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy were also contacted for comment.

(Top photo: FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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