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Football must stand against Iran’s discrimination and abuse of women

FIFA

9/11 will live forever as an historic date. It now has further significance and a similar level of regret attached to it, following the death of a female football fan in Iran.

It is the date FIFA announced that a delegation would be sent to the Iranian capital to meet with local officials. They would oversee the processes behind Iran’s decision to allow women to attend the World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in October.

The decision is not to be confused with any progressive thinking that may finally have seen the West Asian nation join the majority of the world in the present. The permission granted to women to attend the qualifier is nothing more than a clear reaction to international sentiment and pressure after the tragic events of September 2nd and the death of Iranian woman Sahar Khodayari.

Vast sums of money and significant time will be wasted on what is unfortunately a necessary visit to one of the AFC’s most notable and successful members; to effectively deal with what is a most fundamental human rights violation.

The delegation will arrive shortly and carries with it the message of the united football world. One protesting Iran’s consistent refusal to admit half its population into its stadiums to enjoy the beautiful game.

According to Iranian authorities, 29-year-old Khodayari was a criminal. Her crime was a desire to watch football. As such, she broke the law, disguised herself as a male as best she could and attempted to gain admittance to Tehran’s Azadi Stadium in March.

Her hope was to watch Esteghlal, a club with a predominately blue strip; her club. Wearing a blue wig and a long trench coat, Khodayari bravely attempted to blend in with thousands of men outside the stadium, desperate to be discreet and innocuous.

Sadly, her bid to defy what has been a mandated ban on female attendance at football matches for over 40 years failed. She was arrested and detained.

There is no doubt that the incident would have drawn little or no attention around the globe had it not been for what followed. Most likely just a court appearance and a dishing out of what the local authorities saw as an appropriate punishment for a woman wanting to watch a game of football.

Khodayari was informed in the lead up to her court date that the likely punishment was to be six months in prison. Comprehending the sheer idiocy of such a punishment is difficult for those living in free and open societies around the globe.

Through either fear, terror or protest, Sahar Khodayari set herself alight on the courthouse steps outside the building where she was to receive her punishment. She died days later, was buried somewhere around the 6th or 7th of September before authorities announced her death on the 9th.

Tributes flooded in for the woman who would become known as the ‘Blue Girl’ and Iranian citizens held a candlelit vigil on September 12 in memory of the football fan.

Amnesty International labelled the events as displaying Iran’s “appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country.”

It is a contempt that appears finally under pressure, yet one that required an innocent women’s courage and sacrifice to bring the full extent of the horrific truths of Iranian injustice and discrimination to the surface.

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s 2006 documentary Offside raised awareness of the issue and captured the story of a group of women detained whilst attempting to enter a qualifying match. Sadly, it appears political and social will has only now arrived.

No doubt, Iranian authorities will allow some women into the match against Cambodia, hoping that external pressure will be quelled and any serious repercussions from Khodayari’s death avoided.

Australia’s newly formed body Women in Football has asked FFA Chairman Chris Nikou to make a compelling statement; calling for a boycott of Iranian football should FIFA take little or no action before its October deadline.

As of yet, Australian football has not indicated that it would be prepared to take such a step, despite others calling for change.

Jesper Moller, president of the Danish Football Association called for sanctions against Iran should it continue to ban women from matches. He said, “The rules are clear. Discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Despite Moller’s comments holding a fundamental human and political truth, a clear shift in Iran’s policies will require consistent international pressure and a firm hand.

Considering their utter disregard for the human dignity of women, an altered view around who and who cannot attend football matches will not be formed lightly.

It is up to all of us to remember Sahar Khodayari and demand change.

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New A-Leagues, work still to be done

Australia’s top-flight A-Leagues is back and whilst much has changed it is clear that there is still a lot of work ahead.

Australia’s top-flight football competition is back and whilst much has changed it is clear that there is still a lot of work ahead.

The clubs are no longer driving from the back seat, and they have wasted no time and spared little expense in committing to a major makeover to Australia’s top-flight competitions, A-Leagues Men and Women.

A glossy new look, an inclusive new name that bundles the premier men’s and women’s competition, sleek new graphics, a bumper free-to-air deal as well as a new streaming service and dedicated football news platforms all represent solid wins for the Australian Professional Leagues ahead of their debut season on the back of a mountain of preparation that has gone into the promotion of the competition.

Whilst only the most naïve will have expected the efforts to deliver an instant return, the sobering numbers from the opening round of the 2021/22 A-Leagues Men season demonstrate just how much work lies ahead.

Not even the gloss of all the stellar exertion put into revamping the look and feel of the A-Leagues and the fantastic efforts that went into broadcasting the competition to Australia’s audience could completely deflect from the real issues that football continues to face in Australia.

Put simply, they are the same issues that have plagued the sport in Australia for decades, including infrastructure and failing to connect with every part of the Australian football fraternity.

The embarrassing relocation of Macarthur FC’s opening round clash with Wellington Phoenix due to the dire state of the pitch at Campbelltown Stadium will have resonated with hundreds, if not thousands of football administrators all over the country who rely on third parties to maintain their playing surfaces.

It’s one thing for a third-tier state league team to have to relocate a game due to a bad pitch.

It’s another thing for it to happen in the top-flight. Put bluntly, it’s completely unacceptable.

The issue serves as an urgent reminder for the needs of football owned and operated infrastructure.

The sub-10,000 attendance figures at four out of six games highlight the top-flight’s ongoing struggles to get bums in seats and build genuine support for expansion sides.

Off the back of a championship-winning season, Melbourne City would have to be disappointed with a crowd of 7,213, whilst the 8,210 who turned out for Western United’s home game against Melbourne Victory were largely supporters of the away team.

The relocated 1-1 draw between Macarthur and Wellington attracted a touch over 1,000 people, with a contingent of the people in the ground having stuck around following the earlier F3 Derby between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets – a fixture which was attended by less than 7,000 people.

They are numbers that must concern the clubs involved, regardless of the various mitigating circumstances that have been offered as explanations.

Macarthur’s relocation to Newcastle for the weekend was undoubtedly a major issue. However, excuses in Melbourne that with lockdown over, people have other priorities will not hold up in the long run.

The reality is that the pool of ‘new fans’ without attachment to an A-Leagues team or another club is dwindling in an extremely competitive market and this is not something that the APL will be able to expand its way out of.

For football and economic reasons, there is no denying that the A-Leagues needs more teams – as Adelaide United coach Carl Veart passionately advocated for last week. The methods for adding those teams is a critical component of the discussion moving forward.

There are clubs that exist today all over Australia that bring comparable, if not larger, crowds to Macarthur FC, Western United and at times Melbourne City.

Surely, at some point, these clubs deserve an opportunity. One of the biggest obstacles to making this happen is undoubtedly football’s first big problem – infrastructure.

Encouraging further investment in existing football infrastructure through the carrot of opportunities to access the top-flight could be a turnkey solution that will help solve both of football’s biggest issues.

The main short-term issue that was highlighted in round one was the varying quality of stream quality on Paramount+.

Personally, this was not something I experienced watching at least parts of every game via the Apple TV app on my television.

I did notice what seemed like a slightly reduced quality when simulcasting the Western United v Melbourne Victory game on my phone whilst watching the Sydney Derby on TV, but the second half seemed to be an improvement on the first.

Of course, it’s not all bad.

Technical streaming issues are nothing new when it comes to new services launching their live products.

We all remember the hugely frustrating buffering issues many users experienced when the Premier League first arrived on Optus Sport and the issues faced with the 2018 World Cup in times of peak demand.

Optus Sport rose to the challenges remarkably well and at this point, there’s no reason to doubt Paramount’s ability to do the same.

Elsewhere, a sell-out crowd packed into HBF Park to watch Perth Glory’s entertaining 1-1 draw against Adelaide United.

No doubt many of the 17,198 who attended the fixture were attracted to the game for the chance to get a glimpse of former Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge, highlighting the power of genuine marquees in attracting a crowd in Australia.

A healthy 23,118 at the Sydney derby at Commonwealth Bank stadium bodes well for two of the competition’s big teams in a crucial market, too.

The derby also attracted a free-to-air audience of 146,000. On face value alone, that’s not a hugely impressive number, but it is a number that bodes well for the competition according to industry experts, with well-known sports industry commentator @footyindustryAU suggesting that the number was “almost certainly” the highest-rated non-final A-League game in the last five years.

Like most things in life, the marketing gloss will never hide every flaw and the flaws don’t necessarily mean the world is coming to an end.

Round one 2021/22 represents progress and steps forward for Australian football.

The steps forward, however, are on a journey that still has miles to be walked.

Beyond Greatness identity revealed for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023

Beyond Greatness

The Australia & New Zealand 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is set to unite and inspire people from around the world following the announcement of their exciting and bold brand identity, featuring the slogan ‘Beyond Greatness’.

The reveal – which was conducted by FIFA and can be watched here – incorporates a vibrant new visual approach that aims to bring people together from across the world through the power of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and women’s football.

The brand identity and emblem includes the vibrant local landscapes and rich colours of the two host nations, building a palette based on the rainforests, earth, mountains, cities, and water of the two countries.

A radial motif featuring 32 colourful squares – matching the new expansion of participating nations, and an element commonly seen across the indigenous cultures of Australia and New Zealand – is a prominent part of the design.

The motif symbolises not only the world’s best teams coming together, but also the spirit and values of the two host countries radiating back out into the world, with football at its core.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura on the new identity:

“Women’s football continues to grow and Beyond Greatness, the new slogan perfectly captures where FIFA wants to take the female game in the hearts and minds of football fans worldwide – Beyond Greatness,” she said.

“The new brand identity beautifully reflects the expansion of the tournament from 24 to 32 teams and evokes the colours and diversity of the national team strips taking part in the ultimate women’s football competition. We can’t wait for it to begin!”

The brand identity made its first public appearance in a live show featuring FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer and New Zealander Sarai Bareman, Australian striker Kyah Simon and New Zealand forward Hannah Wilkinson.

Speaking during the show, Bareman was inspired by the vision behind the brand:

“The core purpose of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is to showcase women’s talent. Everything we’re trying to achieve for women in football and women in society will be on display for the world to see in Australia and New Zealand,” she said.

“It’s a movement and we want everyone to be part of it. You’re going to see an amazing display of the best athletes in the world, two beautiful countries, and two amazing cultures. It’s unique, like this emblem. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. Get behind it!”

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 CEO Dave Beeche noted that the launch of the brand is a meaningful milestone in the tournament’s preparations:

“Unveiling this dynamic and innovative brand is a key milestone for the host countries in the journey to 2023,” he said.

“We are proud to see our Māori and Indigenous Australian cultures play a key role in the creation of this powerful and unique global brand.

“We believe it’s a fitting symbol of our plans to deliver a tournament that will not only take players and fans Beyond Greatness, but continue the incredible momentum already underway in the growth of women’s sport and gender equality.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will see the world’s top players compete for the greatest prize in women’s football from July 20 to August 20, 2023. The expanded format will feature 32 teams for the first time and is the first to feature hosts from two confederations.

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