17 June 2020

Maryam Shojaei wins Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award for fight that led to women being able to go to football in Iran

Maryam Shojaei has been honoured with the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award for her campaign that led to women in Iran being permitted to attend men’s football games.

The prize is awarded as one of the Sports Humanitarian Awards and celebrates people who have taken significant risk and used innovation in order to secure equality and help the disadvantaged through sport.

Following Maryam’s five-year campaign, it was ruled in October 2019 that women would be allowed to attend the men’s World Cup qualifying games - something which had been banned since 1979.

More than 4,000 female fans showed up to watch Iran beat Cambodia 14-0 and accounted for almost 5% of ticket sales.

More than 4,000 female fans attended the World Cup qualifier (Saeid Zareian/dpa)

Maryam, whose brother Masoud is captain of the men’s side, initially mounted her campaign anonymously in 2015 when she attended the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada and displayed a banner that sparked the beginning of the #NoBan4Women petition.

She also went to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia but there had her signs confiscated.

After Maryam revealed her identity, she continued to increase pressure by pushing FIFA to enforce their policies against gender discrimination and change the laws in Iran.

In September 2019 another Iranian activist Sahar Khodayari died after setting herself on fire in protest against her March arrest for attending a game disguised as a man.

This tragic loss further impacted the movement started by Maryam.

In October 2019, following the Iranian rule change, FIFA President Gianni Infantinio celebrated the admittance of female fans to World Cup qualifiers and urged authorities to expand the ruling to domestic games.

"This is a very positive step forward, and one which FIFA, and especially Iranian girls and women, have been eagerly waiting for," FIFA said in a statement.

“FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.

“There can be no stopping or turning back now,” they added.

The accolade is usually awarded during the week of ESPYS but due to the current pandemic will be televised on ESPN with recipients accepting them remotely.

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