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Iranian women enjoy World Cup match as Tehran lifts decades-old ban

World News | Published:

The move came amid pressure from Fifa, which had threatened to ban the country if female supporters were not permitted to games.

Iranian women draped their national flag round their shoulders as they watched a World Cup qualifier in Tehran – the first time they have been allowed into a stadium in decades.

The sight of women in the stands at Azadi Stadium for Iran’s game against Cambodia marks a decades-long push for the right to do so, following a 1981 ban that followed the country’s Islamic Revolution.

Iran allocated just 4,000 tickets for women in a stadium that seats about 80,000 people, keeping them separated from men and under the protection of female police officers.

Iran women
The women supporters were kept away from men in the stadium, and monitored by female police (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television, said: “We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling.

“At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”

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

On Iran’s conservatively-controlled state television, which carried the match live, a shot of the cheering crowd included ecstatic women spectators.

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Iranian women
Many of the female supporters were dressed, and decorated, in their nation’s flag (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran was the world’s last nation to lift a bar on women at matches after Saudi Arabia recently did so.

The effort to allow women back into stadiums has gone through fits and starts since the revolution. Iran even barred a woman from holding a sign for the country when it attended its first Summer Olympics in 1986 in South Korea.

A group of Irish women received special permission to attend a qualifier between Iran and Ireland in Tehran in 2001.

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Iranian women
The women celebrated as Iran scored their first goal (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Then, last year, Iranian authorities allowed a select group of women into Azadi Stadium by invitation only to watch the Asian Champion League final.

Activist groups outside of Iran, however, remain suspicious of Tehran. Amnesty International called Thursday’s decision “a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities intended to whitewash their image”.

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