First Time in Decades: Iranian Women Are Finally Able to Attend Fifa Soccer Match

On the 10th October 2019 women were permitted to enter Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Cambodia. It is a day that many Iranian women will remember joyfully. Iran won their World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia 14-0 that day.

History on the ruling

Women have been banned from watching men’s games in Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, with only a few exceptions made for small groups on rare occasions.

Former President Mahmoud tried soemthing different in 2006, he allowed women to attend a match between Iran and Bolivia. “The best stands should be allocated to women and families in the stadiums in which national and important matches are being held,” Ahmadinejad said, claiming that “the presence of women and families in public places promotes chastity.”

But it didn’t last. He received backlash from conservative clerics who strongly confronted him on the issue. The Supreme Leader forced Ahmadinejad to go back on his promise.

Later, Hassan Rouhani also took up the cause. On May 22, Rouhani insisted that the ban on women’s access to sports arenas should be lifted. “There should be no difference between men and women in Islam, and for that reason women should also be allowed to take part in sports events.”

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Time for a change

Iran started to be pressured by the world soccer’s governing body FIFA and women’s rights campaigners. But then something horrific happened. The death of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who self-immolated after being arrested and threatened with a jail term for trying to enter Azadi Stadium to watch a match. She set herself on fire and died a few days later in the hospital. The combination of the incident and domestic and international pressure led to  the decision by the Iranian government to finally allow women to attend soccer matches at Iranian stadiums

But opposition to the decision continues to be expressed in Iran. Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi criticized FIFA’s pressure as “interference in our domestic affairs.” There has also been a gathering On October 7: a group of fifty men with hardline conservative views protested the lifting of the ban in front of the parliament.

President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar tweeted that “restrictions on women’s entrance have been lifted. This has led to a new era of hope and optimism.”

Some women’s rights advocates tried to make people aware of the downplaying factor of the decision, noting that other issues such as equal compensation for injuries and rights to inheritance, divorce, and child custody are more important and critical. But they still acknowledge that for (young) people, access to sports and other entertainment is fundamental.


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(All pictures in this article by REUTERS)