In an era that women football players struggle to clear misinformed assumptions that football and femininity contradict each other, 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 with the best offense and defensive records and defeated women football heavyweights, Japan, in the Final to take Gold Medal home for the first time in their history. Fahimeh Zarie’s stunning goal against Malaysia, had her nominated for “Best Futsal Goal of history” on U.K’s Metro newspaper. Women Futsal team’s rock-solid goalkeeper, Farzaneh Tavasoli, was named “The best goalkeeper of the Tournament”, and three of the Iranian girls are nominated for Asia’s Best Women Futsal players: Fereshteh Karimi, Fahimeh Zarei and Farzaneh Tavasoli.
The team’s top goal-scorer and MVP of the final, Fereshteh Karimi dedicated the team’s Asian trophy to Iranian people and said: “I’m very happy that we have become champions and I’d like to dedicate this win to the whole of Iran back home.”
“My teammates and I played from the depths of our hearts in this game and there was a great challenge from our opponents Japan, so this win is even the more meaningful for us.
Applauded by current and former Iran men National team players and the manager, Carlos Queiroz, the much deserved attention is finally pouring in for Iran Women Futsal players. For the first time, the cover page of Iran sport papers were of Iranian women futsal players’ victories. Sardar Azmoun, current men national team star, known as “Iranian Messi” for his superior technical touch, congratulated the women team in his Instagram page and complimented the highly technical Fereshteh Karimi by saying “You deserve much more as Iranian Messi”. Ali Karimi, who has long been fundraising to help fund transportation and facility costs of Iranian football women teams, was the first to congratulate Iran Women Futsal team for their achievement.
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 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 Women Futsal 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 ginal. In comparison, Iran Men Futsal team, at Asian games in 2014, were defeated by Japan in the Final.
Proud of their achievement, in a recent interview with media, Iran Women Futsal manager, Soleimani said, “We had done a lot in preparation for this game and our patience and perseverance had paid off with this Championship. I believe the future of Iranian women’s futsal is even brighter now and we are looking forward to participating in more international championships in the future.” At the same time, the manager criticized Sports officials for being absent at the Airport upon the Champions’ return at Tehran Airport.
Iran Women Futsal team robbed Japan of victory, while Japan has a long history in men and women futsal investment. Amongst which is their Professional Futsal league for women. Yet, in Iran, women Futsal players often times play for their Universities’ Futsal teams for free, with no professional paid contract. The team’s top scorer in Asian Championship, Fereshteh Karimi, pointed to the discriminatory contracts and said: “Many of our team members, play for free in their University teams. I play for Perspolis club, and I get paid 20Mil Toman ($6,000) per year. That is not even comparable to men team players with salaries of 1.5Bil Toman ($500K).”
To make it worse, their games so far at Futsal World Tournament, Asian women Indoor games, West Asian games, and even their recent Asian Championship games have not been aired on TV by Iran broadcasters. 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, discriminatory pay, not being aired 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 with their historic title in this tournament.