In an era that women football players struggle to clear misinformed assumptions that football and femininity do not blend together, the quality is not there or that football is not a natural sport for them as it is for men, on one side of the world women footballers made history in the most extraordinary fashion.
In the first edition of Asian Futsal Championship, amongst all the participants Iran Futsal women team dropped jaws with their superior technical game, dominated the tournament and defeated women football heavyweights, Japan in the Final to take Gold Medal home for the first time in their history.
The story of Iran women Futsal team record takes a different meaning when we realize that all the players had to play with tight scarves, head covers, long-sleeve shirts and long pants, due to Iran’s restrictions on women’s outfit. Yet, their passion went behind such restrictions. The team initially had to grip with pre-tournament controversy that they were to miss their star player and Captain, Niloufar Ardalan for Asian Championship due to her husband’s disapproval of her participation. In Iran, men have the authority to prevent their women to exit the country. All they need is the refusal to sign their permission on their wives’ Passport. That is exactly what happened to Iran Futsal captain, when her husband- one of Iran Broadcasting TV crews- prevented her from leaving the country due to “Her responsibility for their child’s back-to-school week”. Niloufar Ardalan’s husband quickly made headline and faced backlash on Social Media, but not even this sober news could mar Iran Futsal team’s performance at the games.
Iran Futsal women team started the Tournament on strong note by gaining maximum points in Group stage, more than any other Group leaders, and then went on to semifinal to beat Thailand 1-0 and in a very dominant match, defeated Japan 1-0 in the Final. In comparison, Iran men Futsal team, at Asian games in 2014, were defeated by Japan in the Final.
That, while considering Japan has a long history in men and women football investment. Amongst which is their Futsal league for women. Yet, in Iran often times, Iran women Futsal players play in their Universities’ Futsal courts, with no dedicated Futsal court for national team, and with very low transportation budget. Amongst lucky ones who do have professional contracts, their salaries are as low as 15Mil Toman($6000), as attested by Fereshteh Karimi in her media interview. That in dark contrast to men team players earning as high as 1.5Bil Toman($500k). To make it worse, their games so far at Futsal World Tournament, Asian women Indoor games and West Asian games, have never been aired on TV by Iranian Broadcasting channel. In Iran, broadcasting Women football, just like women’s entry into stadiums are strictly forbidden.
Having no dedicated facility to hold training, having have to cover the head and full body, more restricted than other Iranian women on the streets, not being aired or interviewed on TV, losing the Captain, and yet training with passion to prove “impossible is nothing” is a beautiful picture that Iranian women Futsal team painted in this Tournament.
Kudos to the team’s outstanding goalkeeper Farzaneh Tavasoli who only let 3 goals in, marking the best defensive record of Asian Championship. Kudos to the team players who marked the best offensive record of the Tournament, specially MVP of the games with her Messi-inspired moves, Fereshteh Karimi for scoring most of the goals for Iran. Last but not least, kudos to the team manager, Forouzan Soleimani for getting the best out of all the limitations her girls had to face all along.
After successful Asian triumph by Iran women Futsal team, the Captain’s husband and his sexist move has put extra spotlight on an unfair rule and social injustice currently in place in Iran. At the same time, it once more proved to football fans that passion for football does not belong to a particular gender or border. Football is life, and football players and fans live Football. These celebrating Futsal girls of Iran, wrapped under mandatory covers, proved they live and breathe football and no one can stop them.