Iranian Women Attend World Cup Qualifier, End 40-Year Exile

October 10, 2019
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Iranian women were able to watch their national team in Tehran for the first time in 40 years amid calls for all restrictions to be lifted.

Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a landmark World Cup qualifier that was witnessed inside the Azadi Stadium by 4,000 female spectators.

Iranian authorities were moved to allow a quota of tickets to be sold to women following the shocking death of Sahar Khodayari, who became known as the “Blue Girl” for her love of the Iranian team Esteghlal.

Khodayari set fire to herself last month after being summoned to face charges in connection with her attempt to enter a stadium.

The sight of women draped in their national flag in the stands signified a major milestone in the push away from Iran’s male-only policy at sporting events, following a 1981 ban that followed the country’s Islamic Revolution.

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.

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

However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, opposed the decision.

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

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 40 women have been arrested and some prosecuted for attempting to enter football stadiums.

Despite an important step being taken, the move only came after intense pressure from FIFA, with the world governing body threatening to issue Iran with a ban if women were denied access.

Only four sections of the 78,000-capacity stadium were allocated to female supporters, who were kept separate from men and under the protection of female police officers.

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