Iranian women in stadium to watch Russia football friendly
Iran on Thursday allowed women’s football fans to enter a stadium for a national team match for the first time in more than a year.
Hundreds of Iranian women cheered for the home side during the friendly against the Russian national team at the Azadi Stadium in the capital Tehran.
“I came from the (northeastern) city of Neyshabur for the love of Team Melli,” said Fatemeh, a 29-year-old university student, referring to the national squad.
“I’ve been on the road for 12 hours,” she said. “I am very happy that we, women, can participate and see our national team up close and be happy with it.”
The match – which ended in a 1-1 draw – came against the backdrop of months of protests sparked by the September death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd, after she was arrested for an alleged dress code violation of Iran. Codes for women.
Hundreds of people, including scores of security personnel, were killed and thousands arrested in what Iranian officials said were “riots” instigated by the United States and its allies.
In March last year, although women were allowed to buy tickets for the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon, they were refused entry to the Imam Reza stadium in the north-eastern city of Mashhad.
A government official at the time blamed “poor management”.
Two months earlier, women were able to attend an international match for the first time in almost three years, during a World Cup qualifier against Iraq.
A fifth of the 10,000 tickets were exclusively for women during that match, the ISNA news agency reported at the time.
Since its founding in 1979, the Islamic Republic has allowed only a limited number of women to attend football matches and other sports stadiums in general.
Clerics, who play a major role in decision-making, argue that women must be protected from a masculine atmosphere and the sight of half-clothed men.
– FIFA warning –
World football’s governing body FIFA, which has been pushing Iran for years to open its stadiums to women, ordered it in September 2019 to allow unrestricted access to stadiums.
FIFA’s directive, threatening Iran’s suspension from tournaments, came after the death of a fan, Sahar Khodayari, who was set on fire in fear of being jailed after trying to attend a match in disguise.
She was reportedly detained in 2018 after trying to enter a stadium dressed as a man.
Khodayari’s death in 2019 sparked an outcry, leading to calls for Iran to be banned from international competitions and a boycott of its games.
Tehran has since allowed women in sports stadiums more often.
“I’m very happy to be here because it’s my first time,” Farzaneh, a 27-year-old accountant who asked to be identified by her first name, told AFP during Thursday’s match.
She said she hoped that women “can always come to stadiums, for national team matches and the league as well”.
Some women in the crowd wore red and green face paint, and many wore hats matching Team Melli’s colors and Iranian flags.
It was the first match for the Iranian team since Amir Ghalenoei was named as their new coach earlier this month, following Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz who left the job after failing to qualify for the World Cup group stage in Qatar last year.
Thursday’s game was also significant because the Russian national team has been suspended by FIFA and European body UEFA from all competitions since February 2022 due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
As a result of the suspension, the Russian team missed the Euro 2024 qualifiers which started on Thursday.
Tehran has forged strong ties with Moscow in various sectors including the military over the past year.