‘Resistance to discrimination’ — Iranian women ready for stadium bow

TEHRAN: Thousands of Iranian women are set to watch a men’s World Cup qualifier in a stadium for the first time in 40 years on Thursday. It is a victory for campaigners but much is still to do.

Iran’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia on Thursday is more than just a football match, at least for Iranian women.

For the first time in almost 40 years since the Islamic revolution, they can secure a ticket to the Azadi Stadium to watch a competitive men’s national team game.

Something which is perfectly normal for much of the rest of the world was a long and hard fight for Iranian women. The strict Islamic rules of the ultra-conservative clergy had prevented them from entering.

“On Thursday, Iranian history will be written in the Azadi Stadium,“ wrote one fan on social media.

Women have even entered stadiums wearing fake beards to try to circumvent the ban and last month a woman died after setting fire to herself in protest at not being allowed in a stadium.

World football’s governing body Fifa will see the partial lifting of the ban as a major victory. President Gianni Infantino had threatened to exclude Iran from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar if women continued to be banned from stadiums for live men’s internationals.

“What even President Hassan Rouhani and his ministers could not do was made possible by women,“ said a political scientist in Tehran, who asked not to be named.

The political class had wanted change but the powerful clergy had largely blocked the move until now.

Around 100 Iranian women were allowed to watch their men’s national team during a friendly match with Bolivia last October but there were tight controls and most were relatives of team players and officials.

This time feels different, although only 5,000 seats have been made available for women in a stadium holding almost 100,000.

“The women’s visit to the stadium is the first success of their resistance to discrimination,“ tweeted Iranian politician Shahrbanoo Amani.

For the match against Cambodia, between 3,500 and 4,000 tickets were allocated to women online in four special stands and were sold out in a few minutes. According to the daily Etemad, at least two more sections of the stadium are to be made available to women.

The lifting of the stadium ban only applies to World Cup qualifying matches and not to games in the Iranian championship or the Asian Champions League.

The Tehran derbies between Esteghlal and Persepolis, which are the absolute football highlights in Iran, will still not have any women in the stadium.

“We should think and act step by step … the first step has been taken and others will follow,“ said Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar. — DPA

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