Thousands of Iranian women watch football match for first time


Thousands of women watched Iran thrash Cambodia 14-0 in a men's 2022 World Cup qualifier on Thursday in a historic move welcomed by Federation Internationale de Football Association.

But the match has taken on even greater importance after Iran, facing pressure from the world soccer body, allocated 4,000 tickets for women.

Federation Internationale de Football Association ultimately set a deadline for Iran to allow women into the stadium and sent a team of officials to Tehran to ensure that authorities were working to ensure that females would attend the World Cup qualifier on October 10.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director, said prior to the match: "Iran's decision to allow a token number of women into the stadium is a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities meant to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari's tragic death".

Striker Karim Ansarifard scored four goals and Sardar Azmoun hit a hat trick as the Iranians handed Cambodia their heaviest-ever defeat.

Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television, said: 'We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium.

Campaigners also want to see women given access to all games, not just World Cup qualifiers which come under the direct responsibility of Federation Internationale de Football Association. Iran is the world's last nation to bar women from soccer matches.

"Further details on the next steps to be implemented to ensure the future access of women to the stadiums in Iran will follow once we have performed a thorough assessment of Thursday's match based on the input provided by the Federation Internationale de Football Association delegation that is present in Tehran".

The ban on women in stadiums is not written into law or regulations, but it has been strictly enforced.

On Twitter, critics had used the hashtag #WakeUpFIFA to campaign for more tickets for women.

There were also indications that easing the restrictions will take more than allowing women to attend one game, with media credentials denied to female photographers applying to document the historic match.

"The passion, joy and enthusiasm they showed today was remarkable to see and encourages us even more to continue the path we have started".

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

"History teaches us that progress comes in stages and this is just the beginning of a journey. For all football matches", it said in a statement.

"There can be no stopping or turning back now". The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years, with clerics arguing they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men. The bumpy road Iranian women have travelled to gain such access to stadiums has not been without tragedy.

The female fans did have something else to celebrate in the World Cup qualifier: Iran won 14-0. Last October, around 100 "handpicked" Iranian women entered Azadi for a friendly against Bolivia.

In June, FIFA President Gianni Infantino wrote to the FFIRI to seek assurances that women would be allowed to attend 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.