Supporters of the Iran national team were finally allowed back into stadiums to watch their team play on Thursday, with women admitted to watch for only a second time in over 40 years.
A ban put in place by the Islamic republic was in place for around four decades to prohibit female spectators from stadiums, including but not restricted to football, before a Fifa-enforced mandate removed that barrier for this sport in late 2019.
That meant availability of tickets to women who wanted to watch matches and Iran at the time guaranteed over 3,000 tickets for females to a World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia. The fixture, which took place in October 2019, marked the first occasion Iranian women lawfully entered a stadium for a match since 1981 - and the national team certainly put on a show, winning 14-0.
The next home match, though, was not scheduled until June 2020, by which time the coronavirus pandemic had gripped the world, fans were banned from stadiums the planet over and it remained so in Iran until this week’s World Cup qualifier, at home to Iraq, where 2,000 of the 10,000 match tickets were available to women.
At the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, male and female supporters were separated into different areas of the ground and monitored by law enforcement officers, AFP report.
One match-going fan was quoted by France24 as saying there was “nothing strange or complicated” about a supporter, male or female, wanting to watch a match in the stadium.
“It should have happened earlier but I am very happy and I hope that this will continue. I am very happy. This is the first time I have attended a match at the Azadi Stadium,” the woman known as Mahya said ahead of kick-off. “I bought the tickets online. If we win, we will go celebrate the victory in the streets.”
Porto attacker Mehdi Taremi proved the match-winner in a 1-0 victory for Iran on this occasion, ensuring the national team progressed through their World Cup qualifying group to seal a place at Qatar 2022 at the end of this year.
Their next fixture is against UAE on Tuesday 1 February, again at the Azadi Stadium. A statement prior to the match against Iraq did not explicitly state that women would or would not be allowed in for this subsequent fixture.
Ansieh Khazali, vice-president for women and family affairs in Iran, is quoted by MehrNews as saying “God willing, women spectators will [be] in the game against Iraq.”
IranWire recently reported that the Iranian Football Federation, under further pressure from Fifa, had allowed selected female journalists into the same stadium to cover domestic Pro League fixtures, in contrast to none being allowed in other cities in the country.
In 2019, a female football fan named Sahar Khodayari set herself on fire outside a courthouse as she faced prison for trying to enter the Azadi Stadium to watch her team play, the shameful event eventually leading Fifa to push for changes in the country.
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