Iranian women allowed to attend soccer match


Iran were in ruthless mood on Thursday as they claimed a 14-0 win over Cambodia to move top of Group C in the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Last month, world football's governing body FIFA pressured Iran to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers determined by demand for tickets.

But the match in Tehran is arguably among the most consequential sporting fixtures to be played in years, as women will be watching from seats inside the Azadi, or Freedom, stadium, ending a prohibition that has been bitterly opposed.

Apart from a few token groups at three global matches, women have largely been banned from matches since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Earlier, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) had reiterated its stand on allowing women entry into football stadiums in Iran.

The change comes after an Iranian woman set herself on fire and died last month, as she faced charges arising from her trying to enter the stadium to watch a match. Authorities announced they will allow women to attend only worldwide soccer matches.

Cambodia is ranked 169th in FIFA's ranking of its 210 members and is considered a heavy underdog against Iran, which is ranked 23rd in the world and has been a consistent qualifier for the prestigious World Cup, which is held every four years.

Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television, said: "We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium".

"Instead of taking half-hearted steps to address their discriminatory treatment of women who want to watch football, the Iranian authorities should lift all restrictions on women attending football matches, including domestic league games, across the country", said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director.

Out of 36 sections of Azadi Stadium, only four were allocated to women.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said more work needs to be done, but congratulated the supporters who attended.

The women waved flags and blew "vuvuzela" horns while the rest of the stadium was still mostly empty. But Tehran has yet to announce that they will be granted unrestricted access to all matches.

"So everybody is aware of this problem but, of course, with issues like this, you are anxious they might have sold 3,500 tickets for women but there will be multiple numbers outside trying to get in".

A delegation of FIFA experts had visited Tehran to discuss the measures created to allow women in the country to freely attend football matches.

Before the game, a group of women gathered in front of the stadium seeking tickets for the game in Azadi Stadium, which has an estimated capacity of almost 80,000. In October, as many as 100 "handpicked" Iranian women watched a Bolivia friendly.

Amnesty International condemned the limited allocation of tickets for women as a "cynical publicity stunt" following Khodayari's death.

On Twitter, critics had used the hashtag #WakeUpFIFA to campaign for more tickets for women.

The reformist camp has welcomed the decision to allow women into Thursday's match, while conservatives have argued that football is not a priority for women.

Expecting a large number of security forces, some activists said that they planned to stay away from the game.



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