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The football revolution (or soccer revolution) refers to the events in Iran since 1997 in the context of football in that country, a notable part of the secularization and women's rights movements. Since that time, restrictions on women have been restored and tightened.


While women's football in Iran has existed since 1970, female players are required to adhere to a strict dress code. Since the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamic republic, women have had only restricted and segregated access to public places, and they have specifically been banned from attending men's sporting events.[1]

The 'soccer revolution'

When the Iranian football team narrowly defeated Australia in the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification on November 29, 1997, millions of Iranians celebrated the victory by dancing and singing in the streets, despite multiple government warnings against any secular-type celebrations. The most notable event on that day was that women breached the police barrier and entered the stadium, from which they were banned. The Western press saw these events as a message to Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. [2][3] Journalist Franklin Foer compared the football revolution with the Boston Tea Party.[4]

When subsequently Iran defeated the USA 2-1 during the actual 1998 FIFA World Cup on June 21, 1998, similar celebrations continued several days, with some women taking off veils and mingling with men, until Iran's 2-0 defeat by Germany.[5]


Since then Iranian women's rights activists started fighting for the right to enter stadiums, often violently breaking into them.[1][6]

In April 2006 president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lifted the ban on women entering stadiums despite the objections of conservatives, commenting that women and families help bring morality and chastity to public venues.[1][6] However, the ban was reinstated by the Supreme Justice Ali Khamenei on May 8, 2006.

Further restrictions were enacted the enshrined the restrictions for international and national competitions. In December 2007 the vice president of the Iranian Olympic Committee, Abdolreza Savar, issued a memorandum to all sporting federations about the "proper behavior of male and female athletes" and that "severe punishment will be meted out to those who do not follow Islamic rules during sporting competitions" both local and abroad.[7] Men are not allowed to train or coach women. Iran's female volleyball team was once considered the best in Asia, but due to the lack of female coaches it has been prevented from international competition.[7]

Iranian women are allowed to compete in sports that require removal of the hijab, but only in arenas that are all female.[8] They are banned from public events if spectators include unrelated men.[9] Thus, of the 53 Iranian athletes in the Beijing Olympics, there were only three women: Sara Khoshjamal Fekri (taekwondo), Najmeh Abtin (shooting) and Homa Hosseini (rowing).[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Iran: Women At Sports Events: A Victory, But 'Not Enough'", Radio Liberty, April 24, 2006
  2. "The Veiled Threat", by Azar Nafisi
  3. Courtney W. Howland (ed.) (1999) "Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women", ISBN 0312218974, p. 265
  4. Franklin Foer (2004) How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, ISBN 0066212340, p. 221
  5. FarsiNet News Archive
  6. 6.0 6.1 "President lifts ban on women watching football in Iran", The Guardian, April 25, 2006
  7. 7.0 7.1 Iran: Women excluded from sports in the name of Islam, Adnkrono, December 19, 2007; accessed September 21, 2008.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Iran gets ready for Beijing Olympics without 'Iranian Hercules', Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune, July 24, 2008; accessed September 21, 2008.
  9. High hopes of Iran's women rowers, John Leyne, BBC, August 1, 2008; accessed September 21, 2008.
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