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For first time in decades, Iranian women allowed to enter football stadium

A select number of women were allowed to enter the Azadi Stadium in Tehran to watch a friendly football match between Iran and Bolivia
Female fans attend Iran vs Bolivia football match at Azadi Stadium, Tehran. (Screengrab)

On Tuesday, a select number of Iranian women were allowed into the Azadi Stadium in Tehran to watch Iran play a friendly match against Bolivia, for the first time since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Social media users celebrated the news as a potential small step towards more rights for women in Iran:

Translation: “Hoping for the day when half of Azadi [Stadium] will be yours”

Translation: “I was left behind the stadium’s gate tonight, I don’t have any problem with the women who went in and in fact I’m thrilled for their experience.I believe that the loosening of the locks on the gates indicates that the gentlemen have retreated, I will fight until they are wide open.”

Katayoun Khosrowyar, Head Coach of the U19 Iran National Women's Football Team, spoke to Middle East Eye and said "this is a step by step process, and in my opinion, it was a good step to take after 40 years. Slowly but surely the doors will open at Azadi Stadium for all women."

Not everyone was quite as happy that only a select group of women were permitted entry to the stadium:

For 40 years, Iranian women have not been allowed to enter arenas to watch male sporting events.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup saw Iranian women attend matches in Russia due to the ban in their home country. Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei, an Iranian activist who left Iran 10 years ago, flew to Russia to raise awareness for her campaign #NoBan4Women.

Shojaei told Middle East Eye it “seemed unbelievable” that her mother was able to attend matches before 1979, but no longer could.

Khosrowyar said: "Supporting Team Melli at the stadium [on October 16] has been a dream come true for most of the girls."

However, not everyone saw this as a step forward, Khosrowyar and her team faced some backlash from other women who  expressed that they "should not have gone if it was not open for all women". But Khosrowyar feels "it is a step by step process until the few who are against this movement are convinced.  Women need to be happy for the women who finally went because it has already started a serious debate to open the door for all women."

In March, 35 women were detained for attending an exclusively male football match. The group of women tried to watch a game between the teams Esteqlal and Persepolis, but were removed from the stands before it began.

Although there is no legal ban on women attending sporting events in Iran, they are often refused entry. The unofficial policy has been upheld by religious conservatives in Iran since 1980.

Zeinab, who goes by the name Zeinab_perspolisi_ak8  on Instagram, was detained after she tried to attend a football match disguised as a man last September.

In January, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women entering male sporting events, ahead of the World Cup.

This makes Iran the only country in the world that still prevents women from entering sporting arenas.

As head coach, Khosrowyar has received a lot of support to establish a "healthy, positive and professional environment to work in," the federation has provided her team with a number of esstentials to create a successful women's footbal division in Iran.

Khosrowyar has seen an increase in the number of women and young girls interested in the sport, she said: "Going to the stadium is not the official aim in most of their lives, but going to the Women's World Cup, Olympics and even becoming top three in Asia is the goal that they want to achieve now."