Iran has been petitioned by FIFA to be kicked out of the World Cup for prohibiting female spectators.

Over the Islamic republic’s recent ban on women watching international soccer matches, FIFA is facing calls to fine Iran and also to exclude the national team from the 2022 World Cup finals.

2,000 women who purchased tickets for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in Mashhad, Iran’s northeastern city, were unable to enter the stadium, according to Iranian news sources.

Outside of Iran, activists said that authorities deployed pepper spray at close range to disperse women who later protested the prohibition outside the venue.

After the execution of wrestling champion Navid Afkari in September 2020, the United for Navid group of expatriate Iranian athletes and campaigners claimed Iran should be banned from international soccer until it changes its policy.

In a letter to FIFA’s deputy secretary-general Mattias Grafstrom, it added, “We formally propose that FIFA immediately suspend Iran and restrict its participation in the World Cup 2022 as long as the Football Federation of Iran continues to breach the Olympic Charter and FIFA laws.”

Iran had promised FIFA that it would cease its policy of “gender apartheid” by allowing women to attend matches, according to the letter, which AFP received a copy of.

“However, not only has Iran failed that pledge by continuing to prohibit women from visiting stadiums, but women are also attacked, abused, and threatened,” the report continued.

Iran “continues to reject” FIFA’s requirements to demonstrate “basic adherence” to human rights, according to United for Navid.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has urged FIFA to demand that Iran immediately lift its “discriminatory” stadium ban on women and hold perpetrators accountable.

“Given the Iranian authorities’ lengthy history of violations, FIFA should implement its own worldwide nondiscrimination guidelines and consider pursuing penalties for Iran’s noncompliance,” HRW’s senior Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far said in a statement.

According to FIFA’s laws, gender discrimination is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion,” according to the New York-based NGO.

“FIFA has long been overdue to show that it is serious about enforcing transparent accountability mechanisms,” Sepehri Far added.

For the first time in over three years, women were allowed to attend an international match in January, for a World Cup qualifier against Iraq that also saw the squad qualify for the finals in Qatar, the draw for which was held on Friday.

On Wednesday, a FIFA official told AFP that the news of women being prohibited came as a “worry” after “historic progress” demonstrated by the January 2021 match.

“FIFA anticipates that this will continue, as there is no going back.”

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