This week, the sixth annual Sports Humanitarian Awards, sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, will be awarded throughout the week via announcements on ESPN's studio shows, as well on Sunday night during The 2020 ESPYS Presented by Capitol One. As part of the Awards, ESPN announced Tuesday morning that Maryam Shojaei has been named the honoree of the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Since 1979, hardline conservatives in Iran enforced an unwritten rule to exclude women from attending men's soccer matches, citing the inappropriate environment of "profane language" and "half-naked men" (the athletes). Beginning in 2014, Maryam Shojaei anonymously addressed and criticized the ban on social media. She continued her activism a year later, when she traveled to Australia to attend the Asian Football Confederation Tournament and held a banner throughout the game, which called for Iranian women to be allowed to enter stadiums, and it caught the attention the media. A few months later, Shojaei attended the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada where she also displayed the banner and gained international interest, forming a coalition with global human rights and sports activists. In 2018, the international coalition helped Shojaei create the #NoBan4Women petition, and she traveled to the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Despite her banner receiving prior approval to display, as the extensive global news coverage it received, Shojaei was detained and her banner was confiscated after the first match. However, Shojaei persisted and the #NoBan4Women petition - which received hundreds of thousands of signatures - shifted focus from the Iranian Football Federation's discrimination against women to FIFA's responsibility to enforce their own human rights and gender discrimination policies. Throughout 2019, Shojaei and the coalition maintained public and private pressure on FIFA to uphold its own policies or disqualify Iran from the World Cup qualifier match for noncompliance. By October, FIFA sent a delegation to Iran allowing access for thousands of Iranian women and girls to attend the match qualifier match.