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In World Cup first, Iranian women protest ban from soccer stadiums at home

  • SportTOIIranianWomen
With the eyes of soccer fans worldwide focused on the World Cup, Iranian women held posters during their country’s opening game in Russia last Friday in protest against Iran’s ban on women attending soccer games.
by TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF | Jun 21, 2018

Women in Iran have been barred from attending soccer games and some other sports events since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with officials saying they must be protected from the “vulgar atmosphere”.

During the match, which Iran won 1-0 against Morocco, a number of women held up banners inside the stadium in St Petersburg calling for an end to the ban.

“For the first time in the tournament’s history, female soccer fans staged demonstrations inside a stadium,” the Washington Post noted, “hoisting posters against the ban during Friday’s match between Iran and Morocco in Russia’s cultural capital”.

“Iran doesn’t want to see happy women in the stadium,” said Sara, who did not give her last name for fear of being arrested when she returns to Iran. “They’re worried about what else we’ll want.”

Sara, who belongs to an organisation in Iran working to lift the prohibition, concealed her face during the protest, and wore a hijab so she would not be recognisable.

“It was amazing to see how many people reacted positively, taking pictures” of the posters, she said.

Maryam, who wore sunglasses and a visor while holding up a protest banner during the game, said the Iranian ban was made worse by the recent lifting of the same prohibition in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival.

“That’s humiliating to us,” she said.

She also criticised FIFA for not taking action against the ban. “FIFA shouldn’t take sides, but apparently it does,” she said.

In addition to the ban in Iran on women at soccer matches, Iranian authorities announced on Friday that planned open-air screenings in parks and Tehran’s largest stadium had been banned without explanation.

Many were excited about watching the match at Azadi (meaning “freedom”) stadium because it would have been the first time since the Islamic Revolution that men and women could attend a sports event together.

Instead, with no bars, and mixed signals from police about whether cafés could screen the games, many of the city’s soccer-mad population turned to cinemas to vent their passion.

Supporters thronged the steps of one multiplex in central Tehran ahead of the match, chanting and deafening passers-by with blasts from vuvuzelas.

There was a notably even split between men and women. Soccer is particularly popular among Iranian women, in part because they are banned from attending live matches, lending it an illicit air.

“We hoped to go to the stadium, but we are very happy to come here with my family. I’m not that optimistic [that we can win] but I’m just happy to be in the World Cup – that’s enough,” said Rahelleh, 32, with her young daughter in her arms, and an Iran hat on her head.

But she was wrong.

An own goal by Morocco’s Aziz Bouhaddouz in the 94th minute handed Iran its first World Cup victory in 20 years.

Within minutes, Tehranis poured out onto the streets as if they had won the entire tournament.

Traffic on the city’s main north-south artery, Vali Asr Street, reduced to a crawl, as hundreds of cars blasted their horns and jubilant fans hung out of windows waving the Iranian flag and screaming.

“We have not had many things to celebrate recently, so this feels really great,” said Amin, 30, as he watched an impromptu crowd of hundreds dancing and cheering in the middle of the street.

Police appeared happy to let it continue, despite such public displays of jollity – particularly with men and women together – normally being prohibited in the Islamic Republic.

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