Women take the cry for freedom to the stands of the World Cup in Qatar

Inside the Doha metro, a large part of the Moroccan crowd present at the Qatar World Cup celebrated incessantly to celebrate the country’s selection reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in history, after beating Spain on penalties. Among the many female cheerleaders screaming through the crowd was Fatma Abdallah. With her hair down and her face painted, she couldn’t stop celebrating.

Asked what she thinks about the active participation of women in the stands at this Cup, Fatma just smiled, with her arm raised. The fans are in full swing and this could be seen on every day of the World Cup when there was a team from an Arab or Islamic country on the field.

In Iran’s opener, outside Khalifa Stadium, where her country’s national team was thrashed 6-2 by England, Iranian Asi Lisani, who has applied for asylum and lives in Canada, did not care that the match was about to begin . She wanted to speak to foreigners who had come to Qatar for the World Cup about the situation for women in their homeland.

Fan takes advantage of World Cup games to protest
Fan takes advantage of World Cup games to protest

“I came here to be the voice of my people, who are being massacred by the brutality of the Islamic regime. People are angry there, they want change”, he emphasized, showing a T-shirt with the words “be our voice”, with a print in which arms and eyes with makeup simulated a bloody aggression.

FIFA released the use of flags and shirts with the name of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian killed after the country’s morality police, created after the 1979 revolution, caught her in July with part of her hair uncovered in public during the World Cup. Since then, there have been protests against the regime. The repression of the acts resulted in 450 deaths and 18,000 arrests, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Women have taken over Qatari arenas, especially the Arab and Muslim community from nearby countries, and demonstrated various forms of cheering with or without headscarves, even though in many Muslim-majority countries their path to the stands is still a challenge.

Saudi Marian Karin left Al-Hufuf, in the south of Saudi Arabia and 170 kilometers from Lusail, to watch the national team’s game against Mexico. She traveled with two friends and they were all wearing abayas and covering their heads with hijabs. Even though she cares little about football, the Saudi fan chose a typical Muslim outfit in green to match the national flag, but she was more interested in seeing up close the big party that a World Cup provides.

This sensation of seeing something different enchanted Arabs from parts of Africa, such as Tunisia and Morocco, as well as countries in the Gulf region.

Marian Karin left Al-Hufuf, in the south of Saudi Arabia and 170km from Lusail, to watch the national team's match against Mexico
Marian Karin left Al-Hufuf, in the south of Saudi Arabia and 170km from Lusail, to watch the national team’s match against Mexico

Asked if she had ever been to a stadium in Saudi Arabia, Marian replied that she had not, not least because women were recently allowed to enter them (2019) and she lives far from the centers of the country’s biggest clubs, such as Riyadh and Jeddah. Only in 2020 was the first women’s football championship created there. “The experience of living a World Cup is something I never imagined. As an Arab woman, I am happy to be able to be part of such an important moment for our region.”

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In each Muslim country in the Arab community, there is an interpretation of Sharia law, which governs customs and ensures that Islamic tradition is maintained, with punishments for those who commit infractions. In the case of women attending football stadiums, there is no express prohibition in the countries of the community, but in some of them, cultural and religious barriers are so firm that they scare away the female presence.

One of the most complicated reasons is that women must have a reserved area to watch matches separately from men and some stadiums and federations have made little progress in creating incentive tools.

In Qatar, women can attend stadiums and there is no separation by gender. In the United Arab Emirates, as in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, female fans can watch football in loco, but the presence of practically only men in the spaces creates an unwelcoming atmosphere. In Egypt, women attending stadiums are not recommended and there is a risk of harassment.

Of the countries that follow Islam, Turkey and Lebanon are two more advanced examples in this matter, and there are large numbers of female fans who enjoy and frequent the football environment. In Iran, despite being a Persian and non-Arab nation, the presence of women is not formally prohibited, but the requirement of gender separation makes women going to stadiums an exception. 🇧🇷 WITH AFP

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