The Iranian film Offside focuses on a group of dedicated female Iranian football fans desperately trying to get into a World Cup qualifier match. While the film misses much of the presumably exciting competition between Iran and Bahrain, it succeeds in emphasizing Iranian women’s place in their society outside of the immediate football stadium.
The women pry the soldiers that hold them in custody to give a rational explanation for why they cannot watch the game with their fellow countrymen; the response, time after time, is that the stadium, full of impassioned, swearing men, is no place for an Iranian woman. Despite the fact that these women are fans to the highest degree—as is emphasized by their rattling off of game strategy and knowledge of the players—they cannot participate in their nation’s football tradition simply because of Iran’s strict gender norms. Even the way in which the soldiers speak to the women suggests that they see them as second-class citizens in need of control and guidance; this sentiment is reflected when another woman’s father comes searching for his daughter, only to find his daughter’s friend in the group of women by the gate and attempt to beat her on the spot for her poor influence. In this portrait of Iran in 2006, women are not valued or respected. One would hope that by today, countries with these mindsets towards women are making progress towards gender equality.
The setting for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar unfortunately suggests otherwise.
Although the 2022 World Cup seems like a long time away, its host country is already in the spotlight for human rights issues it has been battling for years. Amongst claims of discrimination against migrant workers and the country’s gay community, mistreatment of women pops up over and over again in reports about Qatar and its strict patriarchal culture.
Residents of Doha, where the Cup will actually be held, are already warning that the upcoming tournament in their home city will be different than World Cups in years past. One local man explains: “Football fans like to drink, raise hell, party in the streets and take their clothes off and whatever. They won’t be able to do that here.” Similarly, female fans should not expect to be treated any differently than they normally would be in Qatar just because of the World Cup. In other words, gender inequalities will be in full force in 2022. USA Today’s Nancy Armour declares that in Qatar, “discrimination against women is endemic, relegating them to second-class status—if even that” and ponders: “Never mind how much the World Cups sold for, I want to know what the price was for FIFA’s soul. If it ever had one.” The Roar’s Evelyn Tsitas is incredibly critical of Qatar’s treatment towards women as well, discussing her opinion on the matter through the lens of her trip through the Doha airport; while others might view this airport as merely a site of transportation, Tsitas sees it as “the ugly greeting card for a country that would prefer all women to be neither seen nor heard” and alerts her fellow female fans: “The lifeline of patriarchy is the only thing a solo female traveler can rely on in Qatar. Good luck to the female fans FIFA is trying desperately to recruit.”
Qatar’s government does not seem to hide its prejudices against women. Law No. 22, written in 2006, includes articles that declare that marital rape is not illegal and that women’s responsibility in society is to look over their household and obey their husbands. Further, the state has already sent out official notices (an example of which can be seen below) that remind women of the standard they will be held to during the World Cup.
Posters in Qatar are already calling for women’s dress code restrictions during the 2022 World Cup (Source: The Daily Mail)
With only six years to go until Qatar hosts the World Cup, human rights activists and female fans alike wonder if the nation will accept women for their football enthusiasm or if their gender will exclude them from enjoying this exciting tournament that only comes around every four years. When the time comes for the teams to meet on the pitch in 2022, I hope that women can be at the heart of the competition, rather than watching from afar.
 John Leicester & Rob Harris, “Here’s What Soccer Fans Can Expect From The Qatar World Cup,” Business Insider, December 16, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-soccer-fans-can-expect-from-the-qatar-world-cup-2014-12.
 Nancy Armour, “Armour: For plenty of reasons, Qatar’s World Cup will be the worst ever,” USA Today, May 27, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2015/05/27/fifa-bribery-corruption-qatar-world-cup-worst-ever/28014953/.
 Evelyn Tsitas, “Female fans biggest World Cup bid losers,” The Roar, December 5, 2010, http://www.theroar.com.au/2010/12/05/female-soccer-fans-the-biggest-cup-bid-losers/.
 “World Report 2015: Qatar,” Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar.
 Corey Charlton, “Leggings are NOT pants’: Qatar puts its foot down with dress code as it launches advertising campaign reminding female tourists what not to wear,” The Daily Mail, May 28, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2641453/Qatars-clothing-modesty-campaign-clarifies-stance-leggings-new-advertising-campaign.html.