Below, you will find information about the current state of women’s football in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. I chose these three countries because they show three very different current landscapes of the game. Iran fields a national team, but here I’ve chosen to focus on their policy for girls and women as fans. The UAE is launching a campaign to grow women’s football in the country. Turkey has just founded a new women’s professional league. Hopefully, between these three vignettes, you will have at least picture of how things are today.
In 1979, following the Islamic revolution, a fatwa banned women and girls from Azadi stadium (the national football stadium). In response to this ban, women and girls began dressing up as men to gain entrance. Jafar Panahi’s 2006 film, Offside, which is banned in Iran, illustrates this common practice in action .
In 1987, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini revised the edict to permit women to watch the newly-televised games from their homes. Exactly a decade later (in 1997), the Iranian team looking to qualify for the 1998 World Cup played in a do-or-die match against Australia, in Melbourne, and won. They were headed to the World Cup for the first time in 18 years and the streets of Tehran erupted in jubilation with men and women celebrating together. When the team arrived home, the government hosted a celebratory rally in Azadi. Demanding to be allowed in, the police had no choice but to let 3,000 women into a special section (sequestered from the men). The other 2,000-or-so women refused to be denied, breaking through the barricade and into the stadium. Women also joined in public celebrations in 2006. On April 24, 2008, President Ahmadinejad ordered sports officials to lift the ban on women’s attendance at football matches. Within two weeks, however, clerics had reversed the decision. In November of 2008, Iranian sports authorities claimed to be making “preparations” that would allow for women to attend the game, despite the clerical ban.  But change may be on the horizon. In 2012, Iran hosted the Asian Football Confederation U-16 championships, and in accordance with AFC rules and regulations, fans could not be discriminated against based on gender. This gave women a much-desired opportunity to watch matches in person. Although this may be yet another exception to the “no girls allowed” rule, with every exception comes the hope that the rule might be changed for good. 
A new professional women’s Turkish football league took root within the past year. Prior to this league, an amateur league existed for a decade before disbanding in 2002. Only 798 women and girls are registered members with the Turkish Football Federation, compared to roughly 230,000 men. Though Turkey has flourishing women’s basketball and volleyball leagues, the football league faces some obstacles in the way of conservative culture. For many Turks, the idea of women being in public in only shorts and a tee-shirt is objectionable. Players also face resistance because in Turkey, football is simply seen as a man’s game. Even so, some teams are really taking off in the wake of success. Despite Sakarya being a conservative town, the team, which only drew 100 people to its first match, gets upwards of 3000 fans at their games. The players make $6,000 for the season, but that isn’t all. The manager and coach for Sakarya, Sinan Panta, uses football to open other opportunities for his players. Two of his players have been named to the Turkish National Team. Others are pursuing degrees. This video, below, highlights the Sakarya team’s obstacles and successes.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Just recently (September 2009), the United Arab Emirates Women’s Football Committee announced that the UAE Football Association is launching an initiative which would hopefully culminate in the founding of a women’s national football team. The committee, led by Hafsa al Ulama, was established in June of 2009 as part of a larger effort to grow women’s football in the country. The committee hopes to begin a national women’s soccer league by 2012 and envisions itself hosting international tournaments in the future. They’re starting by learning the basics of spreading women’s soccer, looking to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Syria and Lebanon as examples. Al Ulama wants for women in the UAW to have the same opportunities to play competitive soccer as men have been afforded in the past. FA President Mohammad Khalfan al Rumaithi is dreaming up big things for this team to accomplish. “Our main objective is to create a league before 2012. Then a national team who can participate in Asia. Then maybe we can look to achieve worldwide exposure and aim towards the Olympic Games.” The base for the national team will likely come from an existing club team from Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Women’s Football Club started playing five years ago and eight of its members are Emirati. Dubai also has a women’s football presence. Playing out of the Dubai Ladies Club, the team came together in 2004 and has 14 Emerati players. The committee hasn’t forgotten about looking towards the future, either. They’re working to develop a grassroots program for the next generation’s players. As part of this initiative the committee is also dedicated to training female coaches, assistants and referees.
 Foer,Franklin. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. New York: HarperCollins. 2004. Pp 217-218.
 Turnbull, John. “Clerical error? Iranian officials say coed attendance remains possible, despite sharia’ ban.” 30 Dec. 2006. Web. 10 December 2009. <http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/2006/12/clerical-error-iranian-officials-say-coed-attendance-remains-possible-despite-sharia-ban/>.
 Foer, 218-221.
 Yarbil, Gizem. “Female soccer players shoot down Turkish taboos.” WorldFocus. 10 Sept. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://player.theplatform.com/ps/player/pds/kj-5OcNN0M?pid=ttFWuMdSxVYlyFH4LgJ1N7JGT1PwprrL>.
 Schleifer, Yigal. “In Turkey, Women Playing Soccer Vie for Acceptance.” The New York Times. 4 March 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/sports/soccer/04soccer.html>.
 “United Arab Emirates To Have First Official National Women’s Soccer Team.” Go Magazine. 9 Sept. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://www.gomag.com/news/united_arab_emirates_to_h/>.
 Griffiths, Zoe. “UAE women aiming for Olympics.” The National. 23 Aug 2009. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090823/SPORT/708229938/1138>.
Griffiths, Zoe. “UAE ready for women’s football.” The National. 9 Sept. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090909/SPORT/709089875/1043/business>.
Dorsey, James M. “Female Football Fans May Return to Iran Stadiums.” Hurriyet Daily News. N.p., 25 May 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.
Page by Risa Isard.
How to cite this article: Risa Isard, edited and updated by Maggie Lin and Patricia Spears, “The Current State of Women’s Football in Muslim Countries” Soccer Politics Pages,http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp (accessed on (date)).