Reports have emerged that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will allow women in the country to attend football matches – after the arrest of 35 female spectators caused international outrage.
Fifa President Gianni Infantino told reporters on Friday he had spoken to Mr Rouhani about the government’s plans to lift the long-standing ban on women attending male sports fixtures.
The pair met on 1 March in Tehran, the same day 35 women were detained for trying to sneak into the Esteqlal vs Persepolis match Mr Infantino attended – one of the top fixtures in the Iranian season.
“I was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon,” said Mr Infantino from Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.
“He told me that in countries such as Iran these things take a bit of time.”
There were activist calls for women to try to attend the 1 March game in order to attract the notice of visiting Fifa officials and draw attention to the extremely conservative social rules that impinge on women’s rights in the country.
Since the 1979 revolution Iranian women have had to follow strict dress and behavioural codes in public. Men and women cannot take part in sports together and are not allowed to be spectators at events involving the opposite gender.
When a journalist asked Mr Infantino about the ban during half time, the broadcast was abruptly taken off air by the authorities.
Fifa said it was aware that the visit was politically sensitive but stood by dialogue as the best way to effect change in the Islamic republic.
“There are two ways to deal with this matter – either we criticise, we sanction, we condemn, we don’t speak and we cut relations. Or we go there and have a discussion and try to convince the leaders of the country that they should give [women] access to stadiums. I went for the second option,” the organisation’s chief added.
There was no official Iranian comment on the remarks from Fifa on Friday.
Mr Rouhani, seen as a political moderate, has had difficulty repealing the ban in face of opposition from Iran’s powerful religious establishment.
Rights groups say a similar promise was made to Mr Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, during a 2013 visit.