Women attend soccer match in Iran for first time in decades

Cambodia

Iranian women allowed into football match for first time in almost 40 years

Some 4,000 women were in attendance as Iran faced off against Cambodia for a 2022 World Cup qualification match in Tehran's Azadi Stadium Thursday.

"For the first time in almost 40 years, several thousand women have been allowed into a stadium in Iran to watch a football match played by men", FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

The female fans cheered from a 4,000-seat women-only section of a stadium that has capacity of almost 80,000.

Another video interview, distributed on social media, showed a woman fan inside the stadium, on the brink of tears with an Iranian flag over her shoulders and painted on her face.

The ban came into place following the country's Islamic revolution in 1981.

Federation Internationale de Football Association has demanded that Iran allow women to attend all games and not place caps on their numbers. Last month, 29-year-old activist Sahar Khodayari, known as "Blue Girl", drew global attention to the ban after she set herself on fire and died because she feared going to prison for previously dressing as a man to watch a game.

Men and women were kept apart inside the Azadi Stadium, with special sections set aside under gender segregation.

When Iran's national soccer team takes the field on Thursday for an otherwise humdrum World Cup qualifier, there will be outsize interest not in the action on the field but in who is seated in the stands.

"They treated us very respectfully at the entrance to the ground, from where we took buses to get to stadium itself".

"Instead of taking half-hearted steps to address their discriminatory treatment of women who want to watch football, the Iranian authorities should lift all restrictions on women attending football matches, including domestic league games, across the country", said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director. The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years, with clerics arguing they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

The ban on women in stadiums is not written into law or regulations, but it has been strictly enforced.

Amnesty International has slammed the development as a "cynical publicity stunt", telling the BBC the ticket allowance for women was merely a "token number".

The ticket allocation was reportedly sold out within minutes.

The woman, who runs the Open Stadiums network and uses the nickname Sara to hide her identity, left for Europe over concerns for her safety but returned to Iran this week She said she planned to take her mother to the stadium.

Federation Internationale de Football Association has demanded that the authorities allow an unrestricted number of women to attend all games. "It's a good moment for women to be more involved in the game".

"I don't think many people will understand exactly [how I feel]", she said.

While allowing female fans into the stadium marks a significant relaxation of Iran's hardline stance, it is not a total compliance with the rules.

In October, as many as 100 Iranian "handpicked" women entered Azadi for a friendly against Bolivia.

After the match, Pashaei said she hoped authorities would open up more matches to women so she could attend them with her family. "The government should be thinking of this, not sending them to stadiums", it quoted a mother as saying.

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