Iranian women attend FIFA football game for first time in decades

Iranian women cheer as they hold a huge Iranian flag during a match between their national team and Cambodia in the 2022 World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 October 2019

Iranian women attend FIFA football game for first time in decades

  • Iranian women watched as their national team thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium
  • The effort to allow women back into stadiums has gone through fits and starts

TEHRAN: They had to sit well apart from the men, and the stadium was practically empty, but thousands of Iranian women in merry jester hats and face paint blew horns and cheered Thursday at the first FIFA football match they were allowed to freely attend in decades.
In what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country’s vibrant red, green and white colors and watched with excitement as Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium.
“We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling,” said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television. “At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”
As one woman shouted from a passing minibus before the match: “We are here finally!“
So far, Iran’s hard-line Islamic theocracy is not willing to go as far some women would like. Authorities announced they will allow women to attend only international football matches.
Women have been banned from many sporting events in Iran since 1981, during the early years of the country’s Islamic Revolution. Iran is the world’s last nation to bar women from football matches. Saudi Arabia recently began letting women see games.
Under pressure from FIFA, Iran let a carefully controlled number of women into the stadium, allocating them 4,000 tickets in a venue that seats about 80,000 people, and arranged for 150 female security personnel in black chadors to watch them. They sat at least 200 meters (yards) from the few thousand men at the match.
Iranian state television, which long has been controlled by hard-liners, aired footage of women cheering, and commentators even acknowledged their presence.
“There can be no stopping or turning back now,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “History teaches us that progress comes in stages, and this is just the beginning of a journey.”
Iran faced a potential ban from FIFA international matches if it didn’t allow women into the game. The pressure from FIFA and Iran’s football-loving public has grown since September, when an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a match set herself on fire and died upon learning she could get six months in prison.
The self-immolation of 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari, who became known as the “Blue Girl” for her love of the Iranian team Esteghlal, whose uniforms are blue, shocked Iranian officials and the public.
At the match Thursday, a reporter with Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency posted a video online of chador-wearing officers trying to grab a woman she said had a sign in Khodayari’s honor. The crowd could be heard chanting, “Let her go!” The reporter wrote on Twitter that the woman slipped away from officers and ran off.
Hard-liners and traditional Shiite clerics, citing their interpretation of Islamic law, believe in segregating men and women at public events, as well as keeping women out of men’s sporting events.
The effort to allow women back into stadiums has gone through fits and starts.
In 2006, then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wanted women to attend matches to “improve football-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere.” However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, opposed the decision.
Then, last year, Iranian authorities allowed a select group of women into Azadi Stadium by invitation only to watch the Asian Champion League final.
Infantino said that “FIFA now looks more than ever toward 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.”


Lionel Messi looking forward eagerly to ‘weird’ La Liga restart after COVID-19 pause

Updated 12 min 50 sec ago

Lionel Messi looking forward eagerly to ‘weird’ La Liga restart after COVID-19 pause

  • Messi, who after a few weeks confined like the rest of Spain by the coronavirus pandemic, is training with Barca again
  • Planned resumption of La Liga behind closed doors on the weekend on June 12 looking likely

MADRID: Barcelona and Argentina captain Lionel Messi said he was eager to start playing again but thought La Liga games behind closed doors would feel “weird.”
Messi, who after a few weeks confined like the rest of Spain by the coronavirus pandemic, is training with Barca again ahead of a planned resumption of La Liga behind closed doors on the weekend on June 12.
“We cannot think about what we are leaving behind this year. It is better to think about the future,” said Messi on the website of sports brand Adidas.
“Like going back to day-to-day training, seeing your teammates, playing your first few games. No doubt it will be strange at first, but I am looking forward to competing again!
He said playing without fans “implies a series of challenges. The preparation at squad level is the same as for any other match, but it is true that individually you have to train and get mentally prepared to play without people because it is very weird.”
“It will be like starting over,” he said. “Technically it will be the same season, but I think all teams and players will experience it differently.”
Messi was due to lead Argentina this summer in the Copa America, where his country are joint hosts with Colombia, but in March, the competition was postponed to June and July next year.
“Postponing the Copa America was a huge disappointment, but of course it was reasonable and most logical,” Messi said.
“The Copa was going to be a big event for me this year and I was really looking forward to playing in it again,” he said.
“It was hard when I heard about the postponement, but I understood it perfectly,” he said.