Women’s Soccer in Iran

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Photo Credit: www.tehrantimes.com

The importance of Women’s sports in Iran

Ayla DeBord, Reporter

Iran is a country that has been villainized by the media. In the US, Iran is probably one of the most despised countries. Because of the constant output of negative news about Iran, the good news is always overlooked by the public. Iran has made many societal improvements in their country, one of which is women’s involvement in sports. 

For the first time since the Revolution ended in 1979, women were allowed to attend soccer games in Iran, as of October of last year. Soccer is a huge part of Iranian culture. After the Revolution, women were not allowed to watch men’s soccer in a stadium. They could watch it on TV but never out in person. After many protests and the intervention from the FIFA Administration, the Iranian Government lifted the ban.

Women in Iran also competitively play sports. Iran has an International Women’s Soccer Team and they have also represented Iran in Olympic games and the World Cup. Although in some countries girls can’t even play in gym class – like Saudi Arabia up until 2017 – in Iran, many young girls are active in sports and play throughout their childhood, sometimes adulthood if they are skilled enough. 

I had the privilege of speaking with Katayoun Khosrowyar, Head Coach of Iran’s U-19 Women’s Soccer Team and former player. She was born in Oklahoma and joined Iran’s national team at the age of 17. Now, as the head coach of the team, she travels all over Iran from cities to mountaintops looking for girls who have the potential to be on the team.

“I’m very much honored to be able to play for the national team of Iran. It’s different, because there you are going to be changing history’s direction when it comes to women’s rights and women’s empowerment. I am very happy that I got to play at a young age so I could retire at a young age and build my own platform to be a sports diplomat and get more women involved in the game globally but specifically in the Middle East.”

When asked about challenges she faced as a woman in sports in Iran, she replied, “We did not have the support of the government…the public would laugh at us…‘why would women even wanna play soccer with hijab?’… ‘don’t embarrass yourself’. We had every name that you could think of, we were called on the negative sense but it didn’t stop us. But initially it was more of the shock that we would impose on people that we were female soccer players…they wouldn’t give us the budget for camps and they wouldn’t give us the budget even for our jerseys but whenever we proved to them by beating or by tying against top teams in Asia and Europe, that’s where the trust began.

Challenges today are political challenges, for example there’s political sanctions and economic sanctions on Iran…We don’t have sponsors because nobody has money to sponsor us…this is why I’m doing my second masters in global affairs to see if I can help alleviate that pressure from women’s sports, but specifically in women’s soccer in Iran.” Khosrowyar has been such an important part of cultivating women’s sports in Iran. The difference she is fighting so hard to achieve is insanely inspiring. For Iranian girls, it is so impactful to be able to look up to an Iranian woman who is changing history not only for them, but for future generations to come. 

Women’s sports around the world are noteworthy. Especially when it comes to countries like Iran who have women breaking through the stereotypes and gender norms to create a more female inclusive world.