Iran finally opens stadiums to women
London: Iranian women will be allowed to watch the national soccer team play on Thursday for the first time in over 40 years, but campaigners are not convinced the match against Cambodia heralds a wider opening up of sports by the government.
Under pressure from FIFA, Iranian authorities have allocated seats to women in four sectors of Tehran’s 78,000 capacity Azadi Stadium. FIFA stepped up pressure on Iran to meet commitments allowing women to attend World Cup qualifiers following the death last month of Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire to protest against her arrest for trying to get into a match. But a leading activist said FIFA should have pushed Iranian authorities harder and sooner to adhere to its anti-discrimination rules. “The thing that happened to Sahar, FIFA were sort of responsible for that, because they knew this for years and they should’ve done it a lot sooner,” said ‘Sara’, whose Open Stadiums group has campaigned for women’s access for 15 years. “Sahar had that tragedy but also so many others went through interrogations, they went to jail, just because they wanted to watch football.”
Because protesters have faced repression in Iran, ‘Sara’ uses a pseudonym and asked for her voice to be distorted. Around 3,000 women’s’ tickets for the World Cup qualifier were snapped up when they went on sale last week and FIFA had said it expected more to be released, but no additional seats had been made available by Wednesday. Iranian women have been banned from stadiums hosting men’s soccer matches since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
‘Sara’ said Thursday’s match was a step forward but that practical difficulties remained. “Just women going to the stadium will break a taboo for the hardliners in Iran ... Their eyes are going to be (getting) used to seeing women inside the stadium,” she said.
Iranian sports journalist Raha shows her ticket for the Iran vs Cambodia WC qualifier in Tehran