This is the moment hundreds of women were barred from entering a World Cup qualifier match in Iran before allegedly being pepper sprayed.
Video footage shared online shows women and girls choking and crying with their eyes streaming following the incident outside the Imam Reza football stadium in the northeastern city of Mashhad on Tuesday.
Some 2,000 females had bought tickets to see Iran play Lebanon in the country’s last 2022 World Cup qualifying match, reported the ISNA news agency.
But upon arrival the women were immediately refused entry before stadium security allegedly employed pepper spray to disperse the crowds.
The shocking incident came after former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised football governing body FIFA gradual reforms back in 2018.
A year later, FIFA threatened to suspend Iran if it did not allow female fans access to matches. While Iran agreed to let women attend national games at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, it remained unclear whether the ban was lifted nationwide.
A girl is comforted after reportedly being pepper sprayed outside a stadium in Iran for trying to enter the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon
Hundreds of female fans are blocked from entering the Imam Reza stadium in the holy Shia city of Mashhad, Iran on Tuesday
A woman is seen in discomfort after being doused in suspected pepper spray outside the stadium in Iran
A man is seen blowing cigarette smoke into a child’s eyes in a bid to ease the stinging pepper spray outside the stadium in Iran
Mohsen Davari, governor of Mashhad, told IRIB state television: ‘I apologise that many people couldn’t enter the stadium.’ (Pictured: Crowds gather outside stadium on Tuesday)
A woman is hunched on the floor after being doused with pepper spray while attempting to enter the stadium
The FIFA directive came after a young Iranian woman on trial for attending a football match disguised as a man – and terrified of going to jail – died when she set herself on fire outside a court room.
It was hoped that women would be permitted to watch matches in stadiums going forward, but most have continued to bar women, despite promises of change.
In footage shared online from Tuesday, hundreds of female fans can be heard chanting: ‘We have an objection’, after being told they could not enter.
Some are seen attempting to kick open the stadium’s gates while one man is seen blowing cigarette smoke into a child’s eyes in a bid to ease the stinging pepper spray.
Pepper spray is made using vast quantities of capsaicin, taken from chili, and can cause temporary blinding, chest pain and even leave burns when in contact with skin.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and campaigner who was sent videos from the stadium, wants FIFA to ban Iran from competing in the World Cup later this year.
She told Sportsmail: ‘As an Iranian woman, I call on FIFA to ban the Islamic Republic because we, the women of Iran, are banned from entering stadium for 42 years.
‘If some Western countries banned women from entering stadiums, what would you do? Then what is different between us and Western women? This is hypocritical that FIFA ignore us.
‘This is a total betrayal that FIFA do not take a strong action against a gender apartheid regime!’
Mohsen Davari, governor of Mashhad, told IRIB state television: ‘I apologise that many people couldn’t enter the stadium.
‘Unfortunately, a large number of people outside the stadium were deprived of watching the game.’
In the face of the controversy, President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday ordered the interior ministry to look into the incident.
One woman, speaking to Fars news agency, said women were told that they could get tickets and enter the stadium.
She added: ‘We were on the website yesterday from 12pm to 8pm so we could get tickets.
‘All the ladies who are here have tickets. We took leave from work, we spent a lot of money, but now they are saying women can’t enter.’
A FIFA spokesperson said: ‘FIFA has heard with concerns reports that women were not allowed at the match in Mashhad yesterday and is asking the Iranian Football Federation more information on this matter.
‘FIFA’s position in relation to the presence of women at football matches in IR Iran is clear: historic progress has been achieved – as exemplified by the milestone in October 2019, when thousands of women were allowed into the stadium for the first time in 40 years, and more recently when some women were allowed again at the FIFA World Cup qualifier match in Tehran in January – and FIFA expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back.’
Iran defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Tuesday’s game, although an earlier victory over Iraq in January had already assured the team a spot in the World Cup, due to be held in Qatar.
Women attending men’s games and other sports events has been largely prohibited in Iran since the country came under strict Islamic rule following the 1979 revolution.
The country is now ruled by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who enforces strict religious laws – including the death penalty for being gay.
Local Friday prayer leader in Mashhad, Ahamad Alamolhoda, has said he is always against the presence of women as spectators in men’s sports, branding it a ‘vulgarity.’
After the match, Iran’s captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said he hoped female fans would be permitted to enter in the future.
FIFA demanded that Iran provide assurances that female fans would be allowed to attend the World Cup qualifiers. (Pictured: The Imam Reza stadium)
Iran defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Tuesday’s game, although an earlier victory over Iraq in January had already assured the team a spot in the World Cup, due to be held in Qatar. (Pictured: Iran’s starting 11 for the match against Lebanon on Tuesday)
Iran supporters wave the national flag during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers football match between Iran and Lebanon, at the Imam Reza Stadium in the city of Mashhad, on March 29, 2022
The former Brighton player later shared footage of women protesting outside the stadium with the caption: ‘I present this gift (Iran’s win) to you and all the other dear women of our country.
‘I hope one day we see each and every one of you inside the stadium.’
It comes after more than 2,000 women and girls were allowed into the Azadi stadium in Tehran in the qualifier against Iraq in January.
Iran beat their Middle-Eastern rival 1-0 and became the first Asian group team to qualify for the World Cup.
It was only the second major football event that has permitted women and girls, following the Asian Champions League final in 2019, which saw Persepolis play Japanese team Kashima Antlers.