EXCLUSIVE: German Football Coach, Winfried Schäfer: Tragedy about female fan in Iran; “Fear is omnipresent”

By The Free Iranian Staff


Winfried “Winnie” Schäfer, former German coach of Tehran’s Esteghlal football team, in an interview criticizing FIFA’s performance during women’s entry to the stadiums, called for decisive action to ban Iranian football clubs and national teams, on the grounds of discrimination.

Schäfer, spoke to German media T-Online about the death of Sahar Khodayari, the young football fan who burned herself in front of the courthouse. “The girl did not commit suicide because she was not allowed to go to the stadium; she committed suicide because she was sentenced to six months in prison for trying to enter the stadium. Everyone in Iran knows very well what is going on in prisons. I can’t imagine that FIFA was unaware of the story, and I was disappointed that such a drastic step had to be taken on Instagram to wake up the media and FIFA.”

Responding to what he thought FIFA should have done, Schäfer said:

“The league had not started yet. FIFA should have said either you enforce equality laws [women and men] or clubs and national teams are banned from international competitions. No compromises. If we look at it from a racist scandal angle, it would looks like a country not permitting people of certain ethnicities to enter a stadium.”

Esteghlal (Independence) Football Club before the 1979 Khomeinist Revolution

The former Tehran Esteghlal coach also spoke about the club’s fans and added: “The club was founded by the Shah and is a symbol of the good old days. Millions of fans love Esteghlal – which by the way, means Independence – because the club is a symbol of another Iran. For many people, Esteghlal is the symbol of an Iran that they lost. A better, noble and free Iran. I don’t want to rate it, but that’s what fans of this club see.”

Mr. Schäfer described the management of the Esteghlal football club as state-run and institutional and said: ” The fact that the club was too late to respond to the girl’s heartbreaking incident was an absolute confirmation to many supporters that the club is now completely in the hands of the regime.”

Mr Schäfer, who has won the FA Cup with Esteghlal, said in response to the question of whether supporters of the ban on women make up the vast majority of stadiums: “Of the people I met, not one supports the ban, not one supports the forced veil, and not one supports the regime. But everyone is scared. It is important to know what a massive cross-section of the people are against this regime. If you haven’t lived in Iran, it’s hard to imagine. In the two years I have been living in Iran, I have met many people from various professions, craftsmen, academics, soccer players, taxi drivers and even ministers (cabinet members), and I have not met a single person who supports the regime.”

Mr Schaefer was asked if he believed for change via the younger generation, replied: ” The people I saw, as I said, are not at all in line with the regime. Neither old nor young.”

Schäfer, former German coach of Tehran
Cheers: Esteghlal coach Schaefer 2018 won the Iranian Cup competition. (Source: imago images)

Currently coaching the Emirati, Bani Yas Team, also questioned whether he feared the repression as a factor in the lack of public support for female fans, cited the arrest of a former national team player for having publicly commented and said: “Fear is present in people everywhere. Not just for that matter, but for political commentary in general. That’s why I only heard about the [blue] girl when my son wrote on our Instagram page. Immediately we found out that the older players also wanted to talk about it. My Instagram page has around 4,000 followers. When I, as a foreigner, who no longer coaches Esteghlal, wrote about the fate of this girl, I have helped and protected Iranian soccer players when they want to speak out. One day after we wrote, the club made a statement and more and more celebrities were commenting.”

Commenting on the presence of women at the October 10th, Iran-Cambodia match, where women were allowed to attend, Schäfer stated: “This is exactly the issue for which I criticized FIFA. This is pretty much where we were last year. A number of administrative professionals of the federation and a small number of women were selectively escorted to special posts as window dressing. It doesn’t change anything.”