Iran: Documentary "Football Under Cover"

The film "Football Under Cover" turned out to be the surprise tip of this year's Berlin Film Festival. It tells the story behind the meeting between a multicultural women's soccer club from Berlin and the Iranian national women's team.
Rowdy singing in the stands, as in any other soccer stadium in the world. But a warning rings out from the loudspeakers: in the event of indecent behavior, the game will be called off. The announcement is meant to be taken seriously; we are in Teheran.
The gripping duel between the players of the Berlin club BSV Al Dersim Spor and the Iranian national women's team has feelings running high. Some of the spectators' veils are already suspiciously askew, and the chants are becoming more and more audacious.

Though today all men – no exceptions – have been banned from the stadium, the pious guardians of Iranian decency have not forgotten that cameras are present.

"In Iran everything is possible"

Fortunately, despite the uproar in the stands, the game is not called off – just one example of how nearly everything turns out well in the end in the documentary "Football Under Cover".

"Officially, in Iran nothing is possible – but almost everything is possible", Iranian director Ayat Najafi had explained to co-initiator Marlene Assmann several months previously, and the film documents how accurate this assessment proves to be. In the face of all obstacles, the unusual project – pursued for over a year by the filmmakers and the players – turns out successfully.

In actual fact the filmmakers first came up with the idea of the film and the meeting of the two teams; only then did the project get underway. Thus the documentary reports on an event which it itself brought into being. By April 2006 everything is set: the fifth division team of the Kreuzberg club Al Dersimspor flies to Teheran for a friendly match.

The grotesque contortions of Iranian bureaucracy

In "Football Under Cover" viewers learn that Iran had a national women's team as early as 1968, and that there is no lack of female referees, functionaries or stadium announcers today. However, the film also reveals the grotesque contortions the Iranian bureaucracy is capable of in its attempts to unobtrusively thwart the plans for the friendly match, as well the lack of support on Germany's part.

The jerseys for the Berlin team were ultimately sponsored by the Iranian soccer star Ali Daei, who spent several years playing in the German national league for such teams as Bayern München and Hertha BSC Berlin.

However entertainingly and humorously this struggle with bureaucracies, functionaries and sponsors is presented, the special strength of the film by Ayat Nayafi and David Assmann lies in the sensitive portrait sequences. For a brief moment viewers are immersed in the lives of very different young women who share a passion for playing soccer. And further parallels emerge.

Soccer as a male domain

In both countries, an important issue is the struggle for recognition in a football world that – in the west as well – is dominated by men. When the Berliner Susu tells how happy she is when she plays better than a boy, it is not far removed from Niloofar's satisfaction when she manages once again to disguise herself as a boy when training in a public park.

All the same, the documentary does not gloss over the major differences between the lives of its protagonists. The Berlin Muslim Susu can practice with boys at any time. And the players only need to wear veils when visiting Teheran. By contrast, the young Iranians Niloofar and Narmila are not allowed to play soccer with boys, any more than they can doff their veils in public.

Despite the differences between the worlds they live in, on the playing field the players meet as equals: the match ended in a draw, 2:2.

By: Ariana Mirza

Translated from the German by: Isabel Cole

15 February 2008

© 2008