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FIFA Says Banner Supporting Iranian Women Had Been Authorized Before Tournament

Fans hold a banner supporting Iranian women at a World Cup match in St. Petersburg on June 15.

FIFA says a banner displayed at a World Cup stadium in Russia in support of allowing women in Iran to watch sporting events in stadiums with men was approved before the tournament.

The world soccer governing body on June 16 said rules generally bar political statements at matches, but it said the banner displayed during Iran's 1-0 win over Morocco on June 15 was considered a "social appeal."

The banner was intended to "express a social appeal as opposed to a political slogan and was therefore not prohibited," FIFA said.

Banners with the slogans "#NoBan4Women" and "Support Iranian Women to Attend Stadiums" were held up at both ends of the stadium in St. Petersburg.

At one point, the banner was taken down after three stadium staffers approached those holding it aloft. It was later raised again in another location in the facility.

At home, Iranian authorities have been receiving increasing criticism for policies that ban female spectators from entering stadiums for men's sporting events.

Police often lock up offenders who try to ignore the prohibition -- drawing fire from international sports bodies and rights groups.

Female fans from Iran who have traveled to Russia for the tournament have been shown in photos at the stadium supporting the team in its 1-0 opening-match win against Morocco, which was only the second victory ever in the World Cup by an Iranian side.

Iran will next face powerhouse Spain in Kazan on June 20.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa