Flag-draped Iranian women watched a FIFA soccer match from inside a Tehran stadium Thursday, the first time they’ve been freely allowed into a stadium in decades.
The 2022 World Cup qualifier between Iran’s Team Melli and Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium marks a decades-long push by Iranian women to be able to watch matches, something hardliners in Iran’s Shia theocracy to this day still oppose.
The decision follows the death of a woman, 29, in September who set herself on fire after hearing she could face prison time for sneaking into an Iranian soccer match disguised as a man to watch the game.
Iran allocated only 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. That’s even though face-painted Iranian women have cheered for their team abroad for years despite the 1981 ban that followed the country’s Islamic Revolution.
“We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling,” said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known soccer games from television. “At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”
Iran scored in the game’s fifth minute with a long shot by midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi. On Iran’s conservatively controlled state television, which carried the match live, a shot of the cheering crowd included ecstatic women spectators. They followed with another goal in the 10th minute.
While Iran for years has considered letting women into soccer matches, the decision to allow them in Thursday came as part of intense pressure from FIFA, the world body governing the sport. Iran faced a potential ban if it didn’t allow women into the match.
Iran is the world’s last nation to bar women from soccer matches. Saudi Arabia recently began allowing women into soccer matches.