Thousands of women watch Iran for first time

Tanya Simon
October 10, 2019

Khodayari set fire to herself last month after being summoned to face charges in connection with her attempt to enter a stadium. World football's governing body FIFA ordered Iran last month to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers determined by demand for tickets.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director, said prior to the match: "Iran's decision to allow a token number of women into the stadium is a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities meant to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari's tragic death".

The Iran-Cambodia game in Tehran will mark the first time since shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 that women can watch a men's match without needing special, rare invitations or being forced to sneak in disguised as a man.

Dubbed "blue girl" because of the colours of the club she supported, Esteghlal FC, she had reportedly been detained previous year when trying to enter a stadium dressed as a boy.

Women were quick to get their hands on tickets to attend Iran's 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia at Tehran's Azadi Stadium on Thursday.

"I would like there to be freedom for women, like men, to go freely and even sit side by side without any restrictions, like other countries", said a woman who only gave her name as Hasti.

And with every goal the Iranian team scored, the cheers in the women's section grew louder. People in Tehran supported the decision to let women attend.

"I don't think it's fair to say that it's Western and Federation Internationale de Football Association pressure that led to this; it's [Iranian] women's pressure on the worldwide community that made it possible", she said.

Amnesty International condemned the limited allocation of tickets for women as a "cynical publicity stunt" following Khodayari's death.

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Many women - particularly those lucky to have secured one of only 3,500 tickets allotted for women - and plenty of men have been celebrating ahead of the occasion, including a Tehran-based journalist who says she's overjoyed.

"Calm, disciplined, happy, excited, safe, egalitarian and elegant: this was Azadi stadium today, thanks to the presence of our nation's girls and women!" the official wrote on Twitter.

The Iranians began their latest Continental campaign with a 2-0 win away at Hong Kong on Matchday Two of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, a result which has left the East Asians - who are set to play Iraq - propping up the Group C table.

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

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

Iran even barred a woman from holding a sign for the country when it attended its first Summer Olympics in 1986 in South Korea.

But the day after, the prosecutor general warned there would be no repeat, saying it would "lead to sin".

In 2006, former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wanted women to attend matches to "improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere".

But the ultra-conservative Keyhan daily said women were more concerned about economic issues.

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