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‘An extraordinary feeling’: Iran women attend football match

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Waving flags and snapping selfies, thousands of Iranian women on Thursday attended a football match freely for the first time in decades, after FIFA threatened to suspend the country over its controversial stadium restrictions.

Elated female fans wore the national green, white and red flag around their shoulders and over their hair as they streamed into a tiny section of Tehran’s 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium for Iran’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia.

“We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling,” Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known soccer games from television, told the Associated Press news agency. “At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”

For nearly 40 years, Iran has barred female spectators from entering football and other sports stadiums, with clerics arguing women must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

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.

That came after the death of Sahar Khodayari, dubbed “Blue Girl” because of the colours of the football club she supported, who set herself ablaze last month outside a court after she found out that she could face a two-year jail sentence for attempting to enter a stadium dressed as a boy.

In a statement on Thursday, FIFA feted the match as “a very positive step forward”.

FIFA has demanded that the authorities allow an unrestricted number of women to attend all games. But Tehran has yet to announce that they will be granted unrestricted access to all matches.

Iran 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.

Iranian women arrive at the Azadi stadium. For nearly 40 years, Iran has barred female spectators from entering football and other sports stadiums. [Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA]

Iranian women arrive at the Azadi stadium. For nearly 40 years, Iran has barred female spectators from entering football and other sports stadiums. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said he viewed the presence of women at the stadium as a positive step, according to the official IRNA news agency. [Vahid Salemi/AP Photo]

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said he viewed the presence of women at the stadium as a positive step, according to the official IRNA news agency. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo
Iran's players pose for a team picture prior the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying football match. [Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA]

Iran’s players pose for a team picture prior the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying football match. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
State news agency IRNA said that 3,500 women had purchased tickets ahead of the match on Thursday while 6,000 men also attended, a small number considering the stadium has a capacity of 80,000. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

State news agency IRNA said that 3,500 women had purchased tickets ahead of the match on Thursday while 6,000 men also attended, a small number considering the stadium has a capacity of 80,000. Atta Kenare/AFP
Last month, FIFA pressured Iran to allow women access to stadiums. [Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images]

Last month, FIFA pressured Iran to allow women access to stadiums. Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images
FIFA has demanded that the Iranian authorities allow an unrestricted number of women to attend all games. But Tehran has yet to announce that they will be granted unrestricted access to all matches. [Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images]

FIFA has demanded that the Iranian authorities allow an unrestricted number of women to attend all games. But Tehran has yet to announce that they will be granted unrestricted access to all matches. Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images
While it is not the first time women have attended football matches in Iran, it is the first time they have been allowed to buy tickets. [Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA]

While it is not the first time women have attended football matches in Iran, it is the first time they have been allowed to buy tickets. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

(SOURCE: AL JAZEERA)

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