THE BIG PICTURE: 4,600 Iranian women attend World Cup qualifier in Tehran

Breakthrough: About 4,600 Iranian women attend the World Cup qualifier vs. Cambodia on 10 October (Photo: Aljazeera)

For those who say the sport can play a helpful role in society, more proof came on Thursday (10th) as about 4,600 Iranian women were allowed in as spectators for a football match between Cambodia and Iran in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

It’s the first in about 40 years that women have been allowed to attend a men’s football match in Iran and comes only after intense international condemnation of Iran, following the death of Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian women who set herself on fire after being arrested for attending a match last March, dressed as a man. She died on 9 September after being told that she could be sentenced to jail for going to the match.

The Iranian authorities at first allowed 3,500 tickets to be allocated for women buyers, in a designated area of the 78,116-seat stadium. Those sold out quickly and another 1,100 were made available. Only about 6,000 men attended the game, a 14-0 win for Iran, part of the World Cup qualifying series in Asia.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI), who had told the Iranian Football Association that the refusal to admit women was unacceptable, released a statement that included:

“For the first time in nearly 40 years, several thousand women have been allowed into a stadium in IR Iran to watch a football match played by men.

“This is a very positive step forward, and one which FIFA, and especially Iranian girls and women, have been eagerly waiting for. The passion, joy and enthusiasm they showed today was remarkable to see and encourages us even more to continue the path we have started. History teaches us that progress comes in stages and this is just the beginning of a journey.

“Consequently, FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in IR Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.

“There can be no stopping or turning back now.”

Critics pointed to the quota of 3,500 women, later enlarged to 4,600, as discriminatory, but this is a start. The allowance for women to attend only applies – for now – to international matches, which are under the authority of FIFA.

The next World Cup qualifier to be held in Iran will be on 20 March 2020 vs. Hong Kong.