Female fans return to football in Iran

October 11, 2019
AP
Iranian women cheer during a football match between their national team and Cambodia  at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran, yesterday.
AP Iranian women cheer during a football match between their national team and Cambodia at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran, yesterday.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP):

They had to sit well apart from the men and the place was practically empty, but thousands of Iranian women in merry jester hats and face paint blew horns and cheered inside a Tehran stadium yesterday at the first FIFA football match they have been allowed to freely attend in decades.

In what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country's vivid red, green and white and watched with excitement as Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium.

"We are so happy that finally, we got the chance to go to the stadium. It's an extraordinary feeling," said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television. "At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this."

So far, Iran's hard-line Islamic theocracy is not willing to go as far as some women would like. Authorities announced that they will allow women to attend only international football matches.

Women have been banned from many sporting events in Iran since 1981, during the early years of the country's Islamic Revolution. Iran is the world's last nation to bar women from football matches. Saudi Arabia recently began letting women see games.

Under pressure from FIFA, Iran let a carefully controlled number of women into the stadium, allocating them 4,000 tickets in a venue that seats about 80,000 people, and arranged for 150 female security personnel in black chadors to watch them. They sat at least 200 metres from the few thousand men at the match.

Iran faced a potential ban from FIFA international matches if it didn't allow women into the game. The pressure from FIFA and Iran's football-loving public has grown since September, when an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a match set herself on fire and died upon learning that she could get six months in prison.

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