Thousands of Iranian women expected to attend football match, first for 40 years

Some 3,500 fans are expected to attend the World 2022 qualifier on Thursday in Tehran. The opening comes under pressure from FIFA after the tragic death of a supporter who set herself on fire.

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On this photo dated October 16, 2018, Iranian women applaud by waving the flag of their country after the authorities, in a rare gesture, allowed a select group of women to enter the Azadi stadium to watch a friendly match football tournament between Iran and Bolivia in Tehran. VAHID SALEMI / AP

This is a first in Iran for almost forty years. Some 3,500 fans are expected to attend the 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia on Thursday (October 10th) in Tehran, after having been able to buy their ticket for the match. This overture comes after the tragic death of a supporter, Sahar Khodayari, who set himself alight in mid-September after being arrested for attempting to enter a stadium. FIFA then increased its pressure on Iran, threatening the country with sanctions, to allow women to attend men's football matches.

Soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian women were denied access to the stadiums, ostensibly to protect them from male rudeness. FIFA has been pressuring the Islamic Republic for years to open its stadiums for women. In 2001, about twenty Irish women were the first women to attend a men's football match (Iran-Ireland) in the country since the post-revolutionary ban. The Iranians, they had to wait until 2005: only a few dozen of them had then been able to attend a meeting Iran-Bahrain. Since then, the authorizations have been rare, and always in limited numbers.

Read also Tehran under pressure after the death of "the blue girl"

Specific forums for women

The death of "The girl in blue" (color of his favorite team, Tehran's Esteghlal club) has stirred up excitement on social networks, where calls from celebrities, footballers or activists have been launched to FIFA to ban Iran from international competitions. Following a visit by a delegation of the International Federation to Tehran in September, the Iranian authorities resolved to allow ticket sales to women for the Iran-Cambodia match.

Places for the Azadi stadium (" Freedom ", in Persian) sold like hotcakes and "The presence of 3,500 Iranian supporters (…) is assured "according to the official IRNA news agency. Finding this figure insufficient, a Twitter campaign calls for more seats for women with the hashtag: #WakeUpFifa ("FIFA wake up"). "I still can not believe it's going to happen. After all these years (…) to watch everything on television, I will now be able to live this in person ", told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Raha Pourbakhsh, a sports journalist, proudly showing her e-ticket on her mobile phone.

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But unlike the theater or cinema, where women and men can sit side by side, the supporters will have to fill stands reserved for them, and monitored, according to the Fars news agency, by some 150 policewomen. "I would like women to be free, like men, to go to the stadium and (that men and women) can sit side by side without any restrictions as in other countries "said Hasti, a resident of Tehran.

Rohani favorable to the opening of stadiums to women

The ban on women in stadiums is regularly criticized within the Iranian political system. Conservative moderate, President Hassan Rohani has repeatedly said his willingness to put an end. This project, however, continues to face the opposition of the ultraconservative clan, like the everyday Kayhanwhich calls on the government to deal with women's economic problems rather than sending them to the stadium.

In October 2018, after 100 supporters had been allowed to attend a friendly match between Iran and Bolivia, the country's Attorney General had ruled that exposing women to the sight of men "Half-naked" could lead "To sin". For the economic paper Donya-ye Eqtessad, the decision to authorize the sale of tickets to women for the Iran-Cambodia meeting is a "Measure to undermine a taboo, but also to release the Iranian football of the threat of sanctions of the FIFA". On Twitter, government spokesman Ali Rabii insisted that this decision was the result of a "Internal requirement of society and government support for this requirement", and certainly not "Foreign pressure".

It remains to be seen whether the action of the authorities will satisfy the International Federation. Tehran has not yet announced that women could attend matches in the Iranian league or other international matches, while FIFA calls for women to be allowed in football stadiums "For all matches". In his film Off-side (2006), the Iranian director Jafar Panahi returns on the situation of Iranian women banned from stadiums.

Read also Football: FIFA says Iran will open stadiums for women


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