Only limited numbers of tickets were allocated for women even though there were many empty seats in the stadium. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
Iranian women have watched a football game at the country’s national stadium in Tehran after being able to buy tickets for a match for the first time in 40 years.
- Some 3,500 tickets were allocated to women even though there were empty seats
- Female photographers were also banned from covering Thursday’s match
- Activisits urge FIFA to ensure Iran lifts the ban completely and permanently
Women have been banned from watching men’s games since shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution with only a few exceptions made for small groups on rare occasions.
But under pressure from world governing body FIFA and women’s rights campaigners, Iranian authorities earmarked some 3,500 tickets for them to Thursday’s World Cup Asian qualifier against Cambodia in the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium.
The tickets are for a special women-only section of the stadium, a decision that has been criticised by some campaigners who would prefer women to be able to attend with their male family members.
Footage posted on social media showed women arriving at the stadium more than two hours before the scheduled kick-off time.
The women waved flags and blew “vuvuzela” horns while the rest of the stadium was still mostly empty.
Iranian women watched the soccer game live in Tehran’s Azadi stadium for the first time in 40 years. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
But while campaigners have welcomed the access granted for Thursday’s game, they say the lifting of the ban did not go far enough, with many female fans unable to buy tickets even though seats were available.
Iran’s national football captain’s sister, Maryam Shojaei — who made international headlines when she protested against the ban at last year’s World Cup in Russia — said she was angered to see women and men separated in Azadi Stadium.
“This is not what we’ve fought for,” Ms Shojaei tweeted before the match against Cambodia, which Iran won 14-0.
“This is a direct example of gender discrimination, when there are thousands of empty seats and women can’t buy tickets. Many women are very angry,” she said.
Ms Shojaei called on FIFA to ensure Iran lifts the ban completely and permanently so that women have the same access to tickets as men for all matches countrywide.
‘Ban is crumbling but not gone’
While Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was a “historic day in Iran”, it also criticised the cap on the number of women who can attend the soccer match as “discriminatory, deceptive and dangerous”.
But why is there a seat limit for women @FIFAWorldCup ? Iran’s Azadi (Freedom) Stadium holds 85,000 people, but only 3,000 seats are allocated for women. #WakeUpFIFA and overturn this discriminatory limit. https://hrw.org/news/2019/10/04/iran-stadium-seating-cap-endangers-women #NoBan4Women @OpenStadiums
In a tweet, the organisation called on FIFA to “wake up and overturn the discriminatory limit”.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International also described Iran’s decision to allow a “token number” of women into the stadium as “a cynical publicity stunt”.
FIFA stepped up pressure on Iran following the death of football fan Sahar Khodayari last month, who set herself on fire in protest at her arrest for trying to get into a match.
Video footage posted on Twitter showed some supporters chanting: “Blue Girl, Blue Girl” — a reference to the colours of Ms Khodayari’s team, Esteghlal.
Philip Luther, from Amnesty International, said anything short of “a full reversal of the ban on women accessing all football stadiums is an insult to Sahar Khodayari’s memory and an affront to the rights of all the women of Iran who have been courageously campaigning for the ban to be lifted”.
Ms Shojaei said Ms Khodayari’s death had changed attitudes among the public, but not officials.
The activist said she believed the stadium ban had become symbolic for officials who she thought feared that women would demand more rights if they caved in.
“I think they think that if they give in on this they will have to give in on other things,” she added.
HRW’s director of global initiatives, Minky Worden, said the ban was never just about sport.
“The only logic for keeping this hated ban in place for so long is that, if this ban fell, women would insist on other basic rights — and they absolutely should,” she said.
Iranian women arrive to the Azadi Stadium to watch the 2022 World Cup qualifier soccer match between Iran and Cambodia, in Tehran, Iran. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
In addition to the limited seating for women in the stadium, HRW said female photographers were also banned from covering Thursday’s match and that it had lodged a complaint with FIFA.
“Iran is still not playing by the rules,” Ms Worden said.
“The ban is crumbling, but it’s not gone.”
No one at FIFA was immediately available for comment.
Ban ‘very embarrassing’, out of step with modern Iran
Outside of Iran, supporters have used sporting matches as a chance to protest against the ban on women. (Reuters: Dylan Martinez)
Iranian Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said he believed women’s presence at the stadium on Thursday was a positive step, according to the official IRNA news agency.
“The infrastructure of Azadi stadium is ready for the presence of women. But the cultural and mental infrastructure must be ready,” he said.
One reason given for the ban on women attending football matches was that it protected women from hearing fans swear.
Local media warned women attending Thursday’s match could be exposed to foul language, drug use and even violence.
But Ms Shojaei said the ban was “very embarrassing”, and also out of step with modern Iran.
“It’s very odd. Why can we sit next to each other in other public spaces, but not in stadiums?
“If a guy wants to go to a match with his 10-year-old daughter he can’t.”
Ms Shojaei’s campaign attracted international attention last year when she raised a banner during Iran’s World Cup matches with the slogan: “Support Iranian women to attend stadiums #NoBan4Women”.
On Thursday she said her brother Masoud supported lifting the ban and she believed most other players did too.
“My mother used to go and watch matches all the time when she was young, but she has never seen her son play,” she said.
“We are very proud of him, but we are not proud of this situation.”
Ms Shojaei, who has protested at international matches for five years, launched an online petition ahead of last year’s World Cup which she submitted to FIFA in June.
“We will keep working on this until the day it is normal for women to watch football just like in other places in the world,” she added.