Iranian Women Allowed to Enter Stadium for Football Matches

Iranian women will be allowed to watch the national soccer team play Thursday for the first time in over 40 years. Under pressure from world governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), Iranian authorities have allocated seats to women in four sectors of Tehran's 78,000 capacity Azadi Stadium.

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FIFA stepped up pressure on Iran to meet commitments allowing women to attend World Cup qualifiers following the death last month of Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire to protest against her arrest. 

But a leading activist said FIFA should have pushed Iranian authorities harder and sooner to adhere to its anti-discrimination rules.

"The thing that happened to Sahar, FIFA were sort of responsible for that, because they knew this for years and they should've done it a lot sooner," said 'Sara', whose Open Stadiums group has campaigned for women's access for 15 years.

"Sahar had that tragedy but also so many others went through interrogations, they went to jail, just because they wanted to watch football."

Around 3,000 women's' tickets for the World Cup qualifier were snapped up when they went on sale last week and FIFA had said it expected more to be released, but no additional seats had been made available by Wednesday.

Iranian women have been banned from stadiums hosting men's soccer matches since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Dubbed "Blue Girl" online for her favorite team Esteghlal's colors, Khodayari had feared being jailed for six months by the Islamic Revolutionary Court for trying to enter a stadium dressed as a man.

"FIFA's stance on the access of women to the stadiums in Iran has been firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches," the organization said in a statement.

At Iran's friendly against Syria in June, women were locked out of the Azadi Stadium. Some were detained by security forces.

In 2005 a group of women watched half a World Cup qualifier against Bahrain in Tehran and some were allowed to attend the Asian Champions League final in Tehran last November.

 “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,” Raha Poorbakhsh, a football journalist, told AFP.

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