Bandar Anzali, Iran – While media attention has recently been focused on the Iranian government’s decision to allow female football fans to attend men’s matches, Iranian women are winning small but significant victories for the sport – inside the football pitch.
On November 13, the Iranian women’s team made it to the next round of qualifications in Thailand for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Last month, Iran’s Under-19 women’s team meanwhile emerged on top of its group in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) championship qualifiers.
Katayoun Khosrowyar, an Iranian American chemical engineer who coaches the U19 national team, has also been hailed by FIFA for “transforming the women’s game” in Iran.
The country’s Under-16 girl’s team has also advanced to the second round of the AFC tournament, set to be held in March 2019, after qualifying in September from the first round in Tajikistan.
Back home, different teams from the country’s women football league are also trying to assert their place in the sport, which remains dominated by men.
In Bandar Anzali, in Iran’s northern region by the Caspian Sea, there is a sense of a new start among Malavan Club’s young female players, following the reinstatement of the team after being abruptly scrapped two years ago.
In 2016, controversy erupted among Malavan fans after its club CEO was quoted as saying, “We have many mouths to feed. When a storm-lashed ship is sinking, it starts unloading extra burdens.” The statement was widely seen as sexist, belittling women’s ability to play the sport equal to men.
But after a two-year absence, the Malavan women’s squad is back with a new owner. Maryam Irandoost, a former professional player herself, who led the team before its disbandment in 2016, is also back as the team’s head coach. She also once played for the women’s team, which was launched in 2002.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Irandoost said that she and her team “went through a lot” in the last two years, comparing their inability to play to being a “prisoner surrounded by concrete walls”.
Irandoost recently granted Al Jazeera an inside look at her team, as they prepare for their comeback matches when the league starts on December 12.
The squad currently has 25 members. Some of them are still studying while training every day.
Irandoost said that women are as committed to the game as their male counterparts, adding that she hopes to turn their energy into championship trophies.
“I think playing football as a woman in Iran is absolutely crazy and we are all a bunch of lunatics out of asylum!”