Iran relents — and lets women into sta­dium to watch foot­ball

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Worldwide - He­len Pop­per in Dubai

IRAN yes­ter­day al­lowed hun­dreds of lo­cal women to at­tend the Asian Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in Tehran in a pos­si­ble step to­wards end­ing women’s decades-old ex­clu­sion from top soc­cer matches in the coun­try.

The semi-official news agency Tasnim said an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of women had en­tered the Azadi Sta­dium to watch Perse­po­lis seek to over­turn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Ja­pan’s Kashima Antlers and claim their first con­ti­nen­tal crown.

The news agency said fans around the sta­dium cheered as the women en­tered the stands set aside for them, which an official said had a ca­pac­ity of 850 seats. The women had joined in with chant­ing in sup­port of Perse­po­lis, Iran’s best-sup­ported club.

Ira­nian women and girls have not been al­lowed to at­tend any men’s sport­ing events in the coun­try for much of the 39 years since the Islamic revo­lu­tion, and have not been granted ac­cess to matches in­volv­ing top clubs since 1981.

How­ever, in a rare move last month, about 100 women were al­lowed to watch a friendly soc­cer match be­tween Iran and Bo­livia.

As 80,000 peo­ple gath­ered at the Azadi to watch Satur­day’s game, Ira­nian so­cial me­dia re­ports said most of the women who had been let into the sta­dium were rel­a­tives of play­ers or mem­bers of Iran’s fe­male foot­ball and fut­sal teams and foot­ball fed­er­a­tion em­ploy­ees.

Fe­male fans from other coun­tries have pre­vi­ously been per­mit­ted to at­tend games at the Azadi Sta­dium.

World soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing body FIFA had de­manded women be al­lowed to at­tend top-level games. Ira­nian cam­paign group Open Sta­di­ums has been lob­by­ing for ac­cess to venues for women in Iran, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the group met with FIFA gen­eral sec­re­tary Fatma Samoura last week to de­liver a pe­ti­tion signed by more than 200,000 peo­ple.

Speak­ing be­fore Satur­day’s game, a spokesper­son for the group said over­turn­ing women’s ex­clu­sion “has been our dream for decades”

“We are al­ways ex­cluded from pub­lic hap­pi­ness and ex­cite­ment,” the spokesper­son told re­porters by e-mail on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The re­stric­tions on Ira­nian women that were re­laxed for the match against Bo­livia were quickly re­in­stated un­der pressure from hard­lin­ers within the govern­ment.

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