Thousands of women watch Iran for first time

'Taking back what's ours': Iran's women to attend historic match

Iran football: Women attend first match in decades

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 Azadi Stadium for Iran's 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia.

That pressure has grown both with Federation Internationale de Football Association and Iran's soccer-loving public since September, when an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a soccer stadium to watch a match died after setting herself on fire upon learning she learned she could spend six months in prison.

"There can be no stopping or turning back now", he said. Saudi Arabia recently began letting women see games.

"To our knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women seeking to enter football stadiums", it added.

That's even though face-painted Iranian women have cheered for their team overseas for years despite the 1981 ban that followed the country's Islamic Revolution. Those lucky enough to get tickets included a sports reporter who said she was shaking with excitement.

About 20 Irish women attended a World Cup qualifier in 2001, and four years later a few dozen Iranian women watched the national team take on Bahrain.

A delegation of FIFA experts had visited Tehran to discuss the measures created to allow women in the country to freely attend football matches.

Federation Internationale de Football Association stepped up pressure on Iran to meet commitments allowing women to attend World Cup qualifiers following the death last month of Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire to protest against her arrest for trying to get into a match. Last October, around 100 "handpicked" Iranian women entered Azadi for a friendly against Bolivia.

For some men too, Thursday's game was worthy of celebration.

"We had this experience very late in our life but I am so happy for younger girls who came to the stadium today", she wrote. The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years, with clerics arguing they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

"The global community, including world football's governing body FIFA, must also ensure that women are permitted to attend all matches freely and without discrimination".

"But this was our absolute right (to be here), and not a favour", she told AFP after the match.

Nevertheless, Amnesty International called the 3,500 figure a "token number" and a "publicity stunt" given the stadium has a capacity of 78,000.

On Twitter, critics had used the hashtag #WakeUpFIFA to campaign for more tickets for women.

Then, last year, Iranian authorities allowed a select group of women into Azadi Stadium by invitation only to watch the Asian Champion League final.

"Iran's decision to allow a token number of women into the stadium for tomorrow's football match is a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities meant to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari's tragic death", Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said in a statement.

"The government has a positive view of the presence of women in stadiums", Rabiei said.

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