Iranian women watch football from the stands for first time in decades

Thousands of Iranian women have been allowed to attend a football match in their country for the first time in decades.

The World Cup qualifier against Cambodia was attended by women who had previously only been able to watch their team in person overseas or on television.

The women were allocated only 4,000 tickets at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, which holds around 80,000 people.

They sat at least 200 metres from the small crowd of men attending at the match, watched by 150 female security guards in black chadors.

It came after the lifting of a ban on women attending the games that had been in force since 1981, soon after the country’s Islamic Revolution.

Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse, said: “We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling.”

Another fan who used only her first name – Mojgan – said: “I hope it will be repeated, because women need to come to the stadium for happiness and to support their team.”

In 2006, then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for women to attend matches to “improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere”.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say, was against the idea.

RTS2QHC010 Oct. 2019Tehran, IranIranian women attend Iran's World Cup Asian qualifier against Cambodia at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran October 10, 2019. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
The female football fans had to sit away from their male relatives

Last year, a select group of women were invited to watch the Asian Champion League final in Tehran.

Iran had also been told it faced being banned from FIFA international matches if it did not allow women to attend games.

In September an Iranian woman tried to sneak into a stadium dressed as a man and later died after setting herself on fire.

During the game on Thursday, the female football fans were shown on state television cheering, many dressed in their country’s colours and waving flags.

Iran scored their first goal in the fifth minute and went on to win 14-0.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “There can be no stopping or turning back now.

“History teaches us that progress comes in stages, and this is just the beginning of a journey.”

Others were less impressed, however, with Amnesty International calling the lifting of the ban “a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities intended to whitewash their image”.

The ban was only lifted for international matches and Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said Iranian women should be able to attend all games.

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