Af­ter 40 years, Ira­nian women cel­e­brate soc­cer

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport -

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.

Getty Im­ages

Women fans cheer their team at the Azadi Sta­dium on Thurs­day

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