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Iranian woman disguised as a man to watch football match detained

Photo on Instagram of female fan in the back of a police van sparks new anger over Iran's treatment of its women fans
Zeinab posted a photo of herself in the back of the police van after being detained (Screengrab)

A photo of an Iranian football fan went viral on social media after she was detained for watching a match in Iran while disguised as a man.

The woman, who goes by the name of Zeinab_perspolisi_ak8 on Instagram, gained widespread support after she posted the image of herself in the back of a police van.

Zeinab was attending a match when she was detained by police. The photo she posted on her Instagram account shows her hair tied back to look significantly shorter than usual. In other photos, Zeinab is shown wearing her hair under a cap.

Although there is no legal ban on women attending sporting events in Iran, they are often refused entry. Women have been prevented from entering sports arenas since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, although they are allowed to watch other women play.

In March, 35 women were detained for attending a football match which was exclusively male. The group of women tried to watch a game between the teams Esteqlal and Persepolis, but were detained before managing to watch the game.

The game was of particular importance as the president of football's world governing body FIFA, Gianni Infantino, was attending alongside Iranian Sport Minister Masoud Soltanifar.  

The Instagram post is reminiscent of several examples of women in Iran going to extreme lengths to try and get entry into sports stadiums. Many Iranian women have sparked debate on social media by sharing images of themselves disguised as men, including wearing fake beards and wigs, in order to be able to watch the game.

One user commented on Zeinab’s post: “It’s sad you need to dress as a boy to get in. You’ve got the disguise perfected! Let Iranian women into football stadiums."

During the 2018 World Cup, activists focussed on targeting FIFA and trying to get the body to pressure Iran into changing its treatment of women who attend sporting events. Last year, reports emerged that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would allow women to attend football matches after a conversation with the Infantino.

In March, around the time of the 35 women's arrest, Infantino declared: “I was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadium soon.”

However, rights groups say that a similar promise was made to Infantino’s predecessor during a visit in 2013, with no results. 

The post has prompted social media users on Twitter to address FIFA and ask the body to take action on the situation.

The demand to allow women to attend sporting events has been ongoing, as seen earlier this year during the World Cup, where a group held up a banner that read: “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums”.

A group of people supporting Iranian women hold a banner in the stands during the Group B match between Morocco and Iran in St Petersburg (AP)

A women’s activist who was part of the group later said she was held for two hours by security officials in host country Russia, where she was searched and had the banner taken off her. Political banners and messages were banned from the competition.