Kicking Women

We should not allow Iran to erode international standards in any arena, including sports


Kicking Women
by Dokhi Fassihian

FIFA's decision to ban Iranian women footballers from a game against Jordan last Sunday because they wore headscarves and not the approved cap had soccer lovers in a fit of rage all week. They accuse FIFA for being "agents" of their repression and of "Western" discrimination against Muslims.


Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress compares the situation to the rejection of multiculturalism in Western Europe. She writes, "[I]f we're really concerned with how women are perceived and treated in Muslim communities, it seems hugely counterproductive to adopt policies that force women to choose between abiding by the tenets of their faith and participating in activities that let them demonstrate their physical prowess and strategic intelligence."

Say what? How do we even know these women's faith? Iranian citizens have no right to choose their faith. Iranian women have no choice in dress. Some don't have a choice in husband, or to divorce. There is no religious freedom in Iran. There is no freedom of expression. We actually have no idea how many Iranians are actually Muslim, yet we certainly know that no Iranian women -- Muslim or not -- can choose not to wear the hijab even if they don't believe in it. Most of those footballers would take it off if they could, as would most Iranian women, but they would face lashing and jail. I wonder how Ms. Rosenberg would feel living in a country that forced her to think and dress a certain way against her will, or does she think that kind of life is the reserve of only some women. Would she want the world to push back against that treatment, or let her play soccer on unequal and potentially dangerous footing?

David Zirin writes in Al Jazeera that the FIFA decision feeds "profound Western ignorance regarding the position of Iranian women since the Islamic revolution." He describes the improved literacy rate since 1979 (does he honestly expect a nation of 70 million to go backward over a span of three decades?). He also points out that one out of three Iranian doctors is a woman. Oh well, that settles it then! Things can't be that bad for women in Iran since they can be doctors! How is it then that most Iranian women I know desperately wish to leave their country today? That things are good for them is news to my cousin who last month snatched her 14-year-old daughter and left Iran for San Francisco after the regime started mandating different textbooks for girls than those used for boys to start rolling back hard-won progress in education.

Since last week, Iranian traffic cops have been authorized to harass and fine women for failing to wear "Islamic" dress, which means a few strands of hair showing on their forehead. Iranian women's rights activists, which have worked peacefully for decades to gain many of the basic human rights they lost after the 1979 revolution -- such as the right to wear what they want, equal rights in education, work, marriage, and child custody -- have been charged with national security crimes. Women like Nasrin Sotoudeh, Shiva Nazar-Ahari, Maryam Bahreman , Mahboubeh Karami -- have all been sent to notorious Iranian prisons for peaceful human rights activities. The pro-democracy Green Movement -- modeled, and in many ways, led by Iranian women -- was brutally suppressed in 2009.

Let's get some clarity on a few things. First, the regime running Iran should get no credit for the advancement of women. That credit goes to the progressive people of that country for resisting and circumventing a fanatical government which has made every attempt to block their progress by putting them on unequal footing. Forced hijab is the most powerful symbol of that policy. Second, Iran should not be considered an Islamic state -- whatever that means. A prerequisite for a person to be a true Muslim is free choice and since Iran doesn't allow that opportunity to its people, it fails the Islam test. Today, Iran is a brutal dictatorship with misogynist leanings using the guise of "religion" to stay in power. Forcing a headscarf on a women while playing a grueling game like soccer is not Islamic. It's ideological tyranny. Rejecting headscarves on the pitch for safety reasons is anything but Islamophobia.

It becomes deeply disconcerting when free-thinking people start drinking the Islamic Republic's Kool Aid by using the concept of "culture" and "religion" to provide justification for the violations of the rights of women. Western observers should be far more careful in their analysis of these societies, which are all different. Only a few countries in the world force women to wear hijab against their will and Iran happens to be one of them. We should be careful not to accept the definition of a nation's culture sold to us by non-democratic regimes. There is a reason why such oppression in a country like Iran exists, and it is usually because that "culture" is imposed.

One might say that these issues are unrelated to sports and the right to participate in international sporting events should still stand, notwithstanding politics or human rights. Fine, but only if governments and teams abide by the rules. Iran does not. As usual, it tried to bend the rules. There is no reason that international organizations should adhere to the Iranian regime's demands when it breaks the rules and it has harmed the mental and psychological health of its women and men through three decades of gender apartheid and discrimination. The Iranian government has recently declared that it does not agree to universal human rights standards as set out in international treaties and plans to challenge them globally and promote their own "Islamic" version, which denies religious freedom, gender equality, and freedom of expression. Of course, the input of their people will likely not be solicited since Iran's human rights organizations have all been shuttered and their activists and lawyers jailed or exiled.

Make no mistake about it, gender apartheid in Iran is as damaging to that society as racial apartheid was to South Africa. It is time for the world to recognize it as such. The UN has declared that the lack of equality between men and women is the root cause of violence against women. The world should not legitimize institutionalized violence against women which is exactly what forced hijab is.

Put blame where the blame should be. The unfair treatment of women in Iran today is that country's biggest shame. Let the Iranian people deal with the consequences of their government's flouting of international rules and reckless approach to the health of their women. As much as all of us want Iran's women to play the beautiful game, they should play safely and freely and we should help them get there by calling their government out. We should not allow the Iranian government to deflect blame for its abuse of women, and we should also not allow it to erode international standards in any arena, including sport.

First published in

Dokhi Fassihian is the Executive Director of the Democracy Coalition Project.


Recently by Dokhi FassihianCommentsDate
Welcome to Tehran
Aug 27, 2012
United4Iran Highlights Violations in Iran
Mar 16, 2012
It's Time
Sep 04, 2010
more from Dokhi Fassihian
Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

you do not get it ..... a folish dress code is foolish no matter who imposes it .... IRI or FIFA... 

now if you are for rules and regulations and dress code then stop criticizing IRI and join them for their causes as well ......  

So "sports for all" actually meant sports for those who comply with western norms.  I do not even want to call it secular norm ... as the author suggests cause if it was secular these women would not be stopped .... freedom of  religion .... duh ... FIFA is going political here and the rest is bull shit  ..... Now you can support FIFA and be a hypocrite .... 

more: // 



by yolanda on

Well-said! Faramarz! Great rebuttal!

Iranian girls are pretty good at archery....They rank #2 in the world:


so far FITA has no problem with the hijab.....I think it is because archery is a non-contact sport......there is no choking or strangulation hazard involved!

Anahid Hojjati

thanks Faramarz for info on upcoming

by Anahid Hojjati on

Women's Soccer World Cup and your great arguments about dangers of loose clothing in Soccer and also any kind of clothing that opposing team can use to its advantage including turtle necks. I have to say that I hate turtle necks and it has nothing to do with this recent discussion. I find it "choking".


Thanks Faramarz

by divaneh on

For your informative and knowledgeable verdict on this issue.


Some Facts!

by Faramarz on

To All Distinguished Contributors Who Support IRI Stance against FIFA!

Please look at this issue in the context of standards, rules and safety and not some anti-Iranian, anti-Muslim women, etc. And I hope that most of you have taken the time and watched international soccer at the highest level to understand these issues, and if you have not, 2011 Women’s World Cup is just around the corner and will kick off in Germany later on this month.


There are already head gears that are used by both men and women for the purpose of preventing concussions and as a result head covers are allowed, even if they are used for covering your hair (not the original intent!)


There are also gloves (for cold), nose gear (for broken noses or noses that are healing) and long sleeves that are allowed by FIFA rules.

Loose shirts and anything around the neck that can be grabbed are not allowed because in the competitive matches at the highest levels people actually pull shirts and do all kinds of nasty things to each other and you can easily get injured.


Finally, there is also the tradition and good taste that are associated with each sport. For example, if you are riding horses you are expected to wear certain outfits, same thing with tennis, ice skating, swimming, golf, bowling, etc.

Now, Iran with almost no world standings in any women sports with the exception of Taekwondo cannot just come in and demand changes to the sports rules, norms and traditions.

Earn some respect first and then make demands!



Ejaze Hast

What a disgrace!

by Ejaze Hast on

How long more do we have to be subjected to international humiliation beacuse of decisions of a handful of dirty, criminal, despots?



by yolanda on

Great post, divaneh!!! Thank you!

Let Iranian women vote if there should be mandatory hijab!


a non issue as far as the vast majority of Iranian women......

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

are concerned. 

There are enough real issues and problems that are increasingly focusing the anger of Iranian people; men, women , young and old on their real enemy and tormenter, the islamist regime, that these diversionary fights with and over "arrogant west",  the "nuclear energy", or "zionism", and now this "footbal thing", have lost their desired purpose.

Try a new trick, find a new scapegoat before it's too late....  

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."


Blurred vision

by divaneh on

That's what I call blurred vision. IRI infringes on the women rights and some people here blame the organisation that rejected the ridiculous expectations of the IRI from the sport body. They accepted not to cover the neck? They failed on their promise? Then that's it. Well done FIFA.

And what about girls who want to play other sports? What about swimmers? gymnasts? Those who wish to ice dance? Now, I don’t say all or nothing, but rules are rules. Iranians under any regime can either conform and participate or stay out.

I personally don't think the average woman in Iran who is struggling for much more basic and fundamental rights would give a monkey about women playing football in hejab.

Would be very interesting to have the views of the groups campaigning for women rights inside Iran. Anyone knows what they think?

Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

Great points .....  

I would like to add that Dokhi has the right to express her not so wise opinion but being an active person in NIAC and making  such biased and unthoughtful remarks is not a good thing... I do not know what to make out of it?  


Soosan Khanoom

Afsaneh jan

by Soosan Khanoom on

Many thanks for the remarkable facts that you mentioned .... 



Rules are rules

by hirre on

If FIFA says ok then FIFA is actually saying that religious rules are above sport rules, that would be a disgrace imho...

The bad guys are the IR, they relate every inch of a woman's body to sexuality.


Throwing out the baby with the bath water

by incognito on

Some questions for the Royal Highness, Mary Antoinette, and her distinguished courtiers: By your account, should we not support women right activists in Iran because they observe the Islamic dress code? Should we stop listening to the Iranian music because women are not allowed to sing publicly? Should we boycott Iranian films because they show women wearing hejab? 

Does Ms. Fassihian know of any Islamic edict demanding women participation in sport competitions? Does Ms. Fassihian not know that female athletes in Iran strive to compete in the international arena despite the fanatics, despite the misogynists, despite the polygamists?

Finally, who will benefit from banning female Iranian athletes?

Hafez for Beginners

FIFA: I need to see your NECKS!!! Go Home !!!

by Hafez for Beginners on

Yolanda: You're welcome about the UPDATE.

I was surprised that the whole article - with detailed exposure of women's issues in Iran -  totally bi-passed the FIFA-IRI fight, itself!!

The tight caps you see the women wearing, FIFA had said OK to. FIFA's issue was that they wanted to see neck, and Iranians went coy, and used a turtle neck to cover them.

“FIFA’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable,” FIFA said in an e-mail to Reuters.

“Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the Laws of the Game." - FIFA

The ban was over the fact that their necks needed to be free and not covered (say with a roussari) - because of fear of choking on it getting pulled etc. Iran, thought they were being clever with the women's turtle necks. FIFA got pissed off. Nothing dangerous about a turtle-neck - but "screw those Iranians, anyway! Cover you hair, that's OK - but we need to see NECK!" It's like Shylock asking for a pound of flesh. A lose-lose situation. Shame on FIFA. Shame London 2012. I've written to both.


These athletes got caught in an irresponsible game of one-up-manishp between FIFA and IRI:

FIFA: "Cover your hair, that's OK, but show me some neck!"  - Shakespeare's Shylock would be laughing. 





by yolanda on

Thank you, Hafez for Beginners, for the update!

Very interesting!

Hafez for Beginners

FIFA: Cover you HAIR - don't cover you NECKS

by Hafez for Beginners on

FIFA had said "Yes" to head coverings with a tight cap.

FIFA had said "No" to necks being covered - for fear of choking, if a roussari or something is tugged.

IRAN played it "clever" and the women were wearing turtle necks.

FIFA got pissed off.

I've already written to FIFA to complain. If they had said "Yes" to hair being covered, why then play this game with the "neck" not being covered? These athletes shouldn't be dragged into these political games.

I would have been OK, if FIFA had said "No." to the whole thing. 

But FIFA didn't think of these "athletes" when it set it's "hair covered is OK" - "Neck covered is not OK" - request.

It reminds me of Shylock's impossible request, asking for: "A pound of flesh." It sounds innocent, but is impossible to achieve.


Self-righteous bigotry

by hass on

"Eroding" international standards? Give me a break. Just because you're too self-righteous and think you know what's best for everyone doesn't make it an "international standard"> if the Iranian government isn't supposed to tell people how to dress, then FIFA has even less of a right to do so.  

Soosan Khanoom

Thank you Kaveh

by Soosan Khanoom on

well said ..... 


Be kind, Don't help

by KavehF on

I have no lost love for the rules and regulations in Iran and I am completely proponent of freedom for women including dress code and every other right that belongs to every human being regardless of race or sex. But at the same time I am sick and tired of people sitting outside Iran and trying to make change in Iran over chelokabob and dough. Supporting FIFA’s ban on Iranian women is like trying to fix their blindness with poking a hole in their ear drum. Take away their right to participate in an athletic event to acknowledge they already lost their right for freedom of clothing. Yes that makes sense.

Iranian women have worked hard and had to break tremendous odds and barriers to be able to perform athletic activities in a male dominated Iran. They have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectation fighting Islamic bureaucracy to participate in international events and do what we couldn’t do during previous regime. WIN. To scream we are alive, we are here, and we are fighting for women’s rights.

Yes, let’s help them remove their shackles by throwing them in the hole. Present government will be more than happy to oblige and ban any sports activity for women in Iran. After all their place is in the kitchen and not in arena based on ever-changing Islamic law. But who cares. After we finish with our post-chelokabob tea, we can argue about which café to go to while women in Iran keep fighting for every basic right. Be kind, please don't help

Shazde Asdola Mirza

outside NIAC, one can breathe easier - eh

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

Too bad that the NIAC mark is difficult to clear from one's name - if you are so inclined to do so!



An inormatice article

by varjavand on

An impartially informative article, the crux of the matter is
the mandatory Hejab that serves purpose than 
being the instrument of oppression; //


Even though the whole situation is really heartbreaking, I agree with the author’s assessment and unbiased analysis. Yielding to the whim of the oppressors does nothing but to embolden them. It is the chicanery of IRI to consumes the precious resources, our time, on the trivial issues like Hejab which is not even mandated by Islam and has no impact what so ever on Iran’sunbearable socioeconomic condition. Same in the United States though, while allthe media attention is focused on Congressman Winner’s indecent pictures, Sara Palin’s
emails, and Newt Gingrich’s scandal; the public are oblivious to the real problems.



These Girls Like most Iranians are Cheated first by Hezbollahis.

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

Dreams have been getting crushed for many more people than just these girls.  Compared to Life when the Pahlavi's were around and human rights during those days, life is insane under this Regme.

I would argue that asking girls to play football, while not having the basic human right of deciding whether they wear a hijab or not, is really a form of humiliation more than just playing football.

Islamic Republic Imposing dress laws on all women is more humiliating and unjust for many more women, than fifa's decision is heart breaking for these 11 girls.

How some people can use the word Iranian to describe these Hezbollahis is shocking, they are a minority segment and do not reflect most Iranians.  If they did represent most Iranians they would never need to resort to tyranny against their own, as everyone would be in harmony with them.

Very good article.  Had it all for me...passion, courage, love and compassion.


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Exactly right! FIFA's decision was the only one to make to avoid opening the can of worms you mention. If it was a matter of cultural intolerance, FIFA would bring up the IRI hypocricy regarding ti-for-tat on banning foreign soccer uniforms, but they're not even going there.



by yolanda on

Thank you, Ari!

lets see who will budge 1st: IRI or FIFA?

If IRI allows athletes to de-veil, future female soccer players will be able to compete.....that will be very exciting!

If FIFA allows hijab, the sport will be changed will affect both girls and boys......

the Sikhs may want to wear their turban while some girls may want to wear their hijab..... some players may want to wear helmit....... soccer will never be the same!

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

That pretty much settles it then. TheI IRI argues its FIFA case based on cultural tolerance--an argumet they reject themselves!



by yolanda on

Even the foreign tourists have to wear hijab in Iran.....

I doubt FIFA will host girls' soccer games in Iran.....

At this point, FIFA and IRI are like water and fire.......worse than the nuclear stand-off.

Ari Siletz

Does anyone know?

by Ari Siletz on

...if the IRI allows international women's soccer teams to compete in front of a general crowd in Iran with no hejab? Say, the Turkish women's team.



by yolanda on

A great favorite part:

Iranian citizens have no right to choose their faith. Iranian women have no choice in dress. Some don’t have a choice in husband or a choice in divorce. There is no religious freedom in Iran. There is no freedom of expression. We actually have no idea how many Iranians are actually Muslim, and we certainly know that none of them – Muslim or not - can choose not to wear the hejab even if they don’t believe in it. Most of those footballers would take it off if they could – as would most Iranian women - but they will face lashing and jail.

Iran 2050

Great Article

by Iran 2050 on

Great article.


Why don't Iranian Women have a Free Choice Regarding Hejab

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

Why does IRI force the women to wear it?  Not fair.

Gender apartheid is a human rights crime and regime should have pressure on it for that reason alone.

Great article.