Iranian women winners at Asian Champions League match – and they didn’t even step on the pitch

  • In rare relaxing of rules, about 1,000 female football fans allowed to watch crucial cup clash at Tehran stadium
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:29pm

Hundreds of Iranian women attended a crunch football match in Tehran, in a rare step seen on Sunday as a “victory” by local newspapers and hailed by Fifa as an “historic and festive day” for the sport.

About a thousand women were allowed into Azadi Stadium late on Saturday to watch Iranian giant Persepolis FC battle it out in the Asian Champions League with Japan’s Kashima Antlers.

The Japanese side won 2-0 on aggregate, after a goalless draw in Tehran, but for the reformist Etemad newspaper the clear winners were Iranian women.

“Women were the winners of Azadi (‘freedom’ in Farsi) match,” it said in a bold headline on its front page.

A picture on the front page of another reformist daily, Sazandegi, showed women cheering at the stadium with a headline reading: “Iranian women’s victory in Asian finals.”

Haft-e Sobh newspaper, which has no marked political affiliation, carried a banner headline on its front page that said: “A thousand real women.”

The Asian Football Confederation and Fifa presidents praised the attendance of women in a joint statement.

“I thank the authorities in Iran for making it possible for a diverse and socially representative crowd to witness an extraordinary occasion,” said AFC president Salman al-Khalifa. “Tonight, was historic in so many ways.”

Gianni Infantino, head of world football’s governing body Fifa and was at the match, said he was “delighted to personally” see Iranian female football fans inside the 100,000-capacity stadium.

“Today is a historic and festive day for football, a real breakthrough,” he said.

Women were barred from attending matches after the 1979 Islamic revolution, with clerics arguing they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

They have also worried about the crush of men and women when leaving stadiums.

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The ban on women has been frequently criticised from across the political spectrum.

On Sunday, state-run IRNA reported that authorities had allowed a select group of 850 female fans to attend the game.

Sazandegi said most were “hand-picked” and included relatives of the local side as well as women football and futsal players.

Reformist newspaper Shargh reported that about 500 female fans were kept outside the stadium gates.

Witnesses said the women who entered were put in a separate stand and allowed inside two hours before the game started to avoid a crush.

Since the revolution, women were allowed to attend a football match in Iran for the first time in November 2001 when around 20 Irish women were among the crowd for an Iran-Ireland World Cup qualifier.

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Iranian women had to wait until June 8, 2005 when a few dozen were allowed to watch an Iran-Bahrain match, also a World Cup qualifier. After that match, women were rarely allowed to watch men’s football in stadiums and only in very limited numbers.

On October 16, however, for the first time, up to 100 Iranian women entered Azadi stadium for a friendly between Iran and Bolivia. The following day, Iran’s prosecutor general warned there would be no repeat of women watching football inside stadiums, saying it would “lead to sin”.

But Iran’s first vice-president, Eshaq Jahangiri, urged sports authorities “not to allow politics to affect football”, according to IRNA.