On Thursday thousands of Iranian women were allowed to freely attend at the first FIFA soccer match in decades although the stadium was practically empty and women had to sit well apart from the men. They cheered in face paint blew horns and merry jester hats.
In a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 the women wrapped themselves in the country’s vibrant red, green and white colors and watched with excitement in what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events.
A 29-year-old nurse Zahra Pashaei who has only watch soccer games on television said that they were so happy that finally they got the chance to go to the stadium. At least for her, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this. It was such an extraordinary feeling.
Before the match another woman shouted from a passing minibus that they were here finally.
Since 1981, during the early years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, women in this country have been banned from many sporting events. Iran is the last nation in the world to bar women from soccer matches. Recently Saudi Arabia began letting women watch games. Finally Iranian authorities announced that women were allowed to attend only international soccer matches.
FIFA international matches set a potential ban to Iran if it didn’t let women see the game at the stadium. In September an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a match learning she could get six months in prison set herself on fire and died and the pressure has grown from FIFA and Iran’s soccer-loving public.
Under pressure from FIFA, Iran let a carefully controlled number of women into the stadium but they had to seat at least 200 meters (yards) from the few thousand men at the match. 4,000 tickets in a venue that seats about 80,000 people are given for women, and 150 female security personnel in black chadors to watch them.