Middle East

Iranian women watch World Cup in stadium after 37-year ban

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Women have been allowed inside Tehran’s largest football stadium to watch a World Cup match alongside men for the first time in 37 years.

Iranian women have been allowed to enter a sports stadium to watch a World Cup clash on a big screen.

It has been 37 years since women in the country were last allowed to attend football matches and other male-only sporting events.

Defying the ban has in the past meant punishment by arrest, a jail term, or fines. The ban does not apply to women from foreign countries.

The historic moment was captured with selfies and photos taken by football fans inside Tehran’s Azadi Stadium watching Iran take on tournament favourite Spain. 

Women were pictured cheering as they watched a public screening of their country’s second match in the World Cup tournament.

The outcome (Iran 0 - 1 Spain) did not match the heights of their 1-nil win against Morocco, their first World Cup victory in 20 years. That last win was against the United States in 1998.

In what the Tehran provincial council called a one-off ruling, women were granted a permit to attend the Azadi and Takhti stadiums to view televised broadcasts of the match against Spain.

Female politician and women’s rights activist Tayebeh Siavoshi tweeted a picture of herself watching the game within the Azadi Stadium.

She said she hoped the permit by the council would lead to a broader lifting of the ban of women attending sporting events with men.

"If all goes well, this could be a prelude to the general lifting of the women's stadium ban," Tayebeh Siavoshi told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

"Once spectators have shown their respect for the rules, we hope it will be possible to screen the Iran-Portugal game in the same stadium [on June 25] and that will mark the start of families attending matches played at the Azadi.”

A photo of a jubilant female football fan amid the crowd of spectators was also posted by Iran's national team on their Twitter account.

Iran national football team captain Masoud Shojaei said on Tuesday he believed the World Cup was the wrong place to discuss the issue and feels it is better dealt with after the tournament.

The comments come despite his previous support for lifting the ban, according to media reports in Iran.    

Activists also posted photos of women sitting with their families inside Azadi Stadium. Female football fans are shown with their arms in the air in celebration.  

The photos were posted on the social media account OpenStadiums, a movement started by a female football fan in Iran who has been campaigning for the stadium ban to be overturned for the past 13 years.

According to OpenStadiums, October 5, 1981 was the last time Iranian women were allowed to enter a sporting stadium.

The event almost did not happen after organisers of the public screening at Azadi Stadium called it off "due to infrastructure difficulties". However, that did not deter fans who showed up at the stadium anyway. 

After an hour-long standoff with police blocking the entrance to the stadium, authorities relented and allowed men, women and children to file through the gates. 

Iranian activist detained in Russia

Iranian women's activist Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei and other fans had their protest banner taken down at the main stadium in the Russian city of Kazan, ahead of the match between Spain and Iran.

On the banner were printed the words "#NoBan4Women" and "Support Iranian women to attend stadiums.

Ms Shojaei said she was detained for two hours by security officials.

"When I was trying to get in with my banner, security told me I can't take it in," she told Reuters news agency by phone from Kazan.

Read more: The forgotten football fans fighting stadium bans

"I showed them my approval. They searched me and held me two hours and took the banner."

Ahead of the World Cup tournament, Ms Shojaei launched an online petition calling on FIFA President Gianni Infantino to put pressure on Iran to end the stadium ban.

The petition has garnered over 64,000 signatures and organisers are aiming for 100,000.

In May, Infantino said he had spoken to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and had been told there were imminent plans to allow women to attend matches in the country.

Protecting women from a ‘masculine’ atmosphere

Authorities have banned women from attending sporting stadiums since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The ban extends to watching matches in public spaces, cafes or restaurants that might also be attended by men.

Iranian clerics say the ban protects women from the “masculine” atmosphere where there is vulgar language and behaviour.

The ban on female attendance at sporting stadiums has concentrated on the most popular sport in Iran, football.

That has not stopped female football fans from trying to circumvent the ban. Earlier this year in April, female fans put on fake beards and wigs to attend a major game in Azadi Stadium.

Iranian authorities received harsh criticism in March when 35 Iranian women detained at the football match between Tehran teams Esteqlal and Persepolis.

The subject was also explored in 2006 film Offside, directed by Jafar Panahi, which featured the story of a group of girls who dress up as boys to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium to watch the World Cup qualifying playoff between Iran and Bahrain.

In June 2015, President Hassan Rouhani's government granted a partial exception to the stadium ban, allowing women to attend a volleyball game in Tehran from a designated section of the stands.

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