After 40 years, Iranian women celebrate soccer
Tehran: Iranian women watched the country’s national soccer team for the first time in 40 years on Thursday, celebrating their long-awaited access to the national stadium but also paying tribute to the ‘Blue Girl’ fan who died last month. Iran, one of the traditional powerhouses of Asian football with a passionate fan-base, won their World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia 14-0 but the one-sided game will be remembered much more for the scenes in the stands.
Waving flags, blowing vuvuzela plastic horns and displaying the team colours of red, green and white, over 3,000 women watched from a special women-only section in the Azadi Stadium. Women have been banned from watching men’s games in Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution with only a few exceptions made for small groups on rare occasions. But under pressure from world soccer’s governing body FIFA and women’s rights campaigners, Iranian authorities earmarked tickets for women to watch Thursday’s game.
FIFA had sent a delegation to Tehran to ensure that women were allowed to attend the game 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. Dubbed “Blue Girl” online for her favourite team Esteghlal’s colours, Khodayari had feared being jailed for six months by the Islamic Revolutionary Court for trying to enter a stadium dressed as a man.
Video footage of the crowd at Thursday’s match, posted on twitter, showed some supporters chanting “Blue Girl, Blue Girl”. Other video showed supporters chanting “FIFA, Thank You” While Iran’s dominant performance ensured little drama on the field, there was no shortage of emotion in the crowd. “We have an incredible feeling as the first Iranian women entering the stadium,” said one fan, interviewed by local television.
Another video interview, distributed on social media, showed a woman fan inside the stadium, on the brink of tears with an Iranian flag over her shoulders and painted on her face. “It was really a very big wish,” she said.
Women fans cheer their team at the Azadi Stadium on Thursday