Thu, Oct 10, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Iranian women free to attend soccer today

AFP, TEHRAN

Sports journalist Raha Pourbakhsh shows purchased electronic tickets for the World Cup 2022 qualifier between Iran and Cambodia during an interview in front of the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Female fans in Iran are free to enter a soccer stadium today for the first time in decades, after FIFA threatened to suspend the nation over its controversial male-only policy.

Iran has barred female spectators from soccer and other sports for about 40 years, with clerics saying that they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and the sight of semi-clad men.

World soccer’s governing body FIFA last month ordered Iran to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers determined by demand for tickets.

The move came after a female fan died after setting herself on fire due to fear of being jailed after dressing as a boy to attend a match.

Women were quick to get their hands on tickets to attend Iran’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium today.

The first batch sold out in less than one hour, and additional seats were also snapped up in short order, state media said.

An Iranian Ministry of Sports and Youth official said that the 100,000-capacity stadium — whose name means “Freedom” in Farsi — was ready to host even more women.

One of the 3,500 women to have secured a ticket was Raha Poorbakhsh, a soccer journalist.

“I still can’t believe this is going to happen because after all these years of working in this field, watching everything on television, now I can experience everything in person,” she said.

Poorbakhsh said she was aware of many other women without tickets, including some who expected to travel from southern Iran in the hope of still getting one.

Those lucky enough to attend are to be segregated from men and watched over by 150 female police officers, Fars news agency said.

People on the streets of Tehran said they supported the decision to allow women into stadiums.

“I would like there to be freedom for women, like men, to go freely and even sit side by side without any restrictions,” said a woman who only gave her name as Hasti.

Nader Fathi, who runs a clothing business, said that the presence of women would improve the atmosphere in stadiums.

However, he said that the female spectators “will regret it” if they are exposed to “really bad swear words” and “bad behavior.”

The reformist camp has welcomed the decision, while conservatives have said soccer is not a priority for women.

The Donya-e-Eqtesad financial newspaper called it “a step to weaken a taboo.”

The ultra-conservative Keyhan daily said women were more concerned about economic issues.

“There are many girls still single and at home, afraid of the cost of marriage. The government should be thinking of this, not sending them to stadiums,” it quoted a mother as saying.

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