Monday , 18 October 2021

Luxury Planes, Absent Coaches: Iranian Female Footballers’ Summer of Discontent

Iranwire – The Iranian women’s national football team has headed to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to participate in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers. After a long interruption to their activities and the loss of a FIFA ranking, the team woke up from a two-year slumber in May with the selection of Maryam Irandoost as the new head coach.

Four months of gruelling training later, Iranian women on the national team are preparing for a serious test of endurance – one of many after an eventful few months. This article summarizes what’s been happening on and off the pitch.

Unprecedented Support From the Federation

Shohreh Mousavi, vice president of the Iranian women’s Football Federation, consolidated her influence over the beautiful game in Iran after being accepted as a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s Women’s Committee. As IranWire’s Persian team has previously revealed, Mousavi is the director of a pyramid scheme called Badran and has used team publicity to sell her own cosmetics like anti-wrinkle cream, perfume and hair-restoring masks.

But she also took on her national role with the pledge to bring the team to the World Cup. This wasn’t taken seriously at first, but her six-month performance does appear to have been promising.

Mousavi’s first step was to pay Iran’s arrears to the Asian Women’s Futsal Championship. Then she introduced new technical staff to the national team and a uniform refresh, solving years-long squabbles. For the first time, members of the women’s national team were hosted at the Olympic Hotel in Tehran, in the middle of the Azadi Sports Complex: ideal conditions, according to the players.

Shohreh Mousavi then arranged two friendly matches in Belarus with the Belarusian and Uzbek national teams. A month later the Iranian delegation left for Tashkent in Uzbekistan for another two games with the home team.

Then, a bombshell came: rumors spread that Mousavi was about to resign. But she publicly denied the stories and said she would continue to work with vigor. According to “informed sources” cited in Iranian media, she’d had a dispute with Shahaboddin Azizi Khadem, the president of Iran’s National Football Federation, over technical staff salaries and had threatened to step down in the course of the squabble.

In the aftermath, new rights and privileges were ascribed to female Iranian football coaches. And for the first time this year, the Federation sent the women’s national team to the AFC qualifiers on a private flight: a luxury previously only afforded to men.

Head Coach Irandoost: Charismatic but Controversial

Maryam Irandoost, the daughter of (formerly) retired football manager Nosrat Irandoost, is back on the bench as head coach for a second time after a hiatus that ended in May. Since then, she has invited professional Iranian female football players of all stripes to come and evaluate her team’s performance.

This decision was initially criticized by some other coaches. Irandoost, who has also been criticized for her social media activities, firmly replied that she didn’t want anyone to lose out and all players deserved a chance to be seen. She also asked the players to choose their own team captain.

It seemed Irandoost was trying to create a fair environment. But then she introduced her father as the team’s new technical director. Due to the intervention of the Ministry of Sports and Youth, he’s largely been relegated to the bleachers; in Iran, even a father in his 70s watching veiled girls playing football on the pitch is a bridge too far.

The restrictions that plague Iranian women’s football mean that neither Nosrat Irandoost nor Jalal Basharzad, the goalkeepers’ coach, are allowed to sit in the technical area during matches or accompany the team on trips. This leaves just Maryam Irandoost and her assistant coach, Somayeh Shahbazi, who does not have a strong enough record to support her alone, on hand at the team’s most important matches.

Lax Doctor Imposed on the National Team

Sports physician Dr. Farinaz Fahimipour has supported different Iranian national sporting teams over many years. Unfortunately, she is also known for medical negligence that has led to some players suffering career-altering injuries.

The most recent case was that of 23-year-old midfielder Afsaneh Chatrnour, who had to come off Irandoost’s list over what Iranian media claimed was an ankle injury. In fact, Chatrnour had gone to the team doctor with a painful stomach ache and not received the support she needed.

Dr. Fahimipour had diagnosed Chatrnour with possible Covid-19. But she wasn’t quarantined and continued to train. Instead she was prescribed with pills, and two days into the course, she fell to the ground, vomiting. A hospital scan found Chatrnour had a cyst that had been torn due to the intensity of the training.

Dr. Fahimipour has close ties to Dr. Mohammad Razi, the head of the Iranian Football Federation’s medical committee. The pair work in the same clinic.

Players’ Growing Unrest

Another issue Maryam Irandoost has been dealing with is disquiet within the ranks. Zahra Khajavi, the national team’s number one goalkeeper, refused to take part after ex-national goalkeeper Maryam Yektai, a member of the Turkish Besiktas club, was invited to join the team on the eve of a trip. Irandoost reported her to the Federation’s ethics committee.

Shabnam Behesht also walked out on the team in anger. A close friend of Afsaneh Chatrnour, she refused to accept Irandoost’s invitation as a sign of protest after Chatrnour lost out on her chance to join the Asian qualifiers.

Off the back of all of these problems, the Iranian women’s national team is now back in Tashkent. They need to meet the quota in Group G, in competition with Bangladesh and Jordan, to have a stab at the trophy.

This article was written by a citizen journalist under a pseudonym.