Iranian women will be allowed to attend a live stadium soccer game on Thursday for the first time in around 40 years, following a recent threat from FIFA to suspend the country for its discriminatory bans.
FIFA ordered Iran to allow women access to stadiums without restrictions and sell enough tickets to meet demand in September. A sports ministry official said Azadi Stadium in Tehran, which seats 100,000 people, is ready to accommodate more women.
The mandate came in response to the death of a soccer fan known as “Blue Girl," who set herself on fire in September out of fear that she would face a prison sentence for dressing up as a boy to attend a game. Iranian women frequently sneak into stadiums disguised as men.
Women rushed to buy tickets for Iran’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar qualifier against Cambodia on Thursday. The first batch of seats sold out in under an hour, according to the Guardian.
The government’s decision is an important step in the right direction toward gender equality, but it is unclear whether the ban is permanently lifted, according to human rights advocates. Jasmin Ramsey, communications director at Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), questions whether the temporarily relaxed ban is simply a strategy to appease domestic and international pressure.
“The Iranian government shouldn't wait for international condemnation to change discriminatory policies,” Ramsey said in a statement released to Global Citizen. “It [government] should start listening to the Iranian people, and acting on their demands.”
Women have been barred from watching sports in stadiums and public spaces since 1975, when the country’s new religiously conservative government decided stadiums were inappropriate for women. Stadiums were viewed as places where people swear and athletes wear ‘indecent’ clothing. Religious conservatives also worried women would become romantically interested in men at sporting events.
But there’s no written rule banning women from watching sports in Iran. Politicians and religious leaders support the policy and authorities enforce it by stopping women from entering stadiums or arresting them for trying.
Update on #Iran's Oct 10 World Cup qualifier match w/ Cambodia— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) October 9, 2019
1) 3000ish women allowed to buy tickets
2) Women limited to segregated/fenced section
3) Women forced to use segregated parking lot
4) Women members of press haven't received entrance IDspic.twitter.com/hMjza0PdC6
You see that purple spot? It took 40 years of domestic and international pressure for the Islamic Republic of Iran to designate that spot for women to watch soccer. That’s the place of 40M women in a society dictated by oppressive Islamic laws.@JZarif = Professor of Human Rights https://t.co/qqdO3Ozpg9— saman arbabi 🏳️ (@SamanArbabi) October 4, 2019
FIFA’s latest order follows several recent attempts to loosen the unofficial rule at select events. Iran’s government received criticism from activists after allowing women to watch a livestream of the World Cup in 2018, but still not letting them buy tickets to see a real game. Iranian authorities later permitted 100 women to watch a men’s soccer game at Azadi, but President Hassan Rouhani voiced disapproval.
“Meaningful change requires the Iranian government allowing Iranian women the same rights as men,” CHRI’s Ramsey said. “This process would require changing civil and criminal laws so women can be recognized as equals in the eyes of the law.”