For the first time in 38 years, Iranian women today were able to enter a stadium by buying their own tickets to watch a men’s soccer match between their national team and Cambodia.
Videos and photos published on social media by soccer fans show women are entering Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. Authorities designated a special section for women which is isolated by fences. Out of 36 sections of Azadi Stadium, only four were allocated to women.
After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran’s clerical rulers banned women from watching men’s sports in stadiums. After years of criticism and protests, the government in September finally relented to official demands from FIFA, football's ruling body, which threatened to suspend Iran from international tournaments.
The conservative clerics and hardliners have always maintained that the atmosphere in sports arenas is "morally unsuitable" for women according to Islamic precept.
“Following several ID checks and inspections by Iran’s morality police, we were finally allowed to enter. They told us that shooting any video showing faces of police personnel is prohibited. They have also warned us about foreign reporters,” a woman who entered the stadium told Radio Farda.
Last time women could buy tickets for a football match under the Islamic Republic rules was on October 9, 1981. The ban on women was never enacted as a law but enforced by executive decisions.
FIFA feted Thursday's match as "a very positive step forward".
"FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in... Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment," it said.
"There can be no stopping or turning back now."
FIFA Foundation CEO Youri Djorkaeff called it "a great first".
"There must be a beginning, and today, there was a beginning," he told AFP.
The death of a young woman who committed suicide after being threatened with a jail term turned into an international story, which prompted FIFA to increase its pressure on Iran.
Sahar Khodayari, a female football fan tried to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium to watch a match when she was arrested. She was released later but in early September she was told of an impending jail term. She set herself on fire and died a few days later in the hospital, creating international outrage.
Last week, women were allowed to go online to buy tickets for the game between Iran and Cambodia.
With reporting by Reuters