Iranian Women Allowed to Attend Soccer Game for First Time Since 1981 – Smart Media Magazine

Iranian Women Allowed to Attend Soccer Game for First Time Since 1981

One woman said she wanted to hug her ticket and cry. Another clasped both hands over her mouth at her first glimpse of the field’s lush green turf. Others painted flags on their cheeks and used their cellphones to document their presence.

When Iran’s national soccer team took the field on Thursday at Tehran’s Azadi stadium for an otherwise humdrum World Cup qualifier, the outsize interest in the game was not in the action on the field but on who was seated in the stands.

For the first time in almost four decades, women were allowed to buy tickets and attend a match in Iran.

“Finally,” one fan said, “the gates are open to us.”

Within weeks, the president of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, said the Iranian authorities had assured him that women would be allowed to attend international matches, beginning with the World Cup qualifier against Cambodia. For years, FIFA had avoided taking a hard line on Iran’s exclusion of women, but as public pressure increased, it left open the possibility of banning Iran, an Asian soccer powerhouse, from qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup.

In a speech at a women’s soccer conference in Milan in September, Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, told delegates that his organization could no longer wait.

Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, who has for years lobbied FIFA to pressure Iran to lift the ban, said the soccer body should be criticized, given its failure to open the entire stadium to women.

“The women are eager to finally have the ban fall, so much so that a number of them will show up to purchase tickets at the gate and they will show up to protest,” Worden said in a telephone interview. “That creates a really unacceptable situation, an unacceptable risk.”

Still, even the limited concessions to female fans resulted in counter protests by Iranian hard-liners. One group rallied on the streets of Tehran this week holding banners denouncing what they said was capitulation in the face of pressure from the West.

The hard-liners’ opposition did little to darken the mood at the stadium, though. The fans in the women’s sections sang and chanted throughout the game, and the persistent hum of vuvuzelas — the plastic horns that are a regular feature at Iran’s games — filled in any gaps in the noise.

After the match, Iran’s captain, Masoud Shojaei, led the team to a spot in front of the sections where the women had been corralled to applaud them for coming.

Still, there were indications that easing the restrictions will take more than allowing women to attend one game. Media credentials were denied to female photographers applying to document the match, and FIFA’s Infantino released a statement in which he hailed the day as a positive step but said that he now “looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.”

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