Iran women freely attend first football match in decades
Thousands of Iranian women draped in flags celebrated inside a Tehran stadium on Thursday as they watched their national team win a record-scoring game in the first FIFA football match they've been allowed to freely attend in decades.
The 2022 World Cup qualifier between the Iranian national team and Cambodia at Tehran's Azadi Stadium marks a decades-long push by Iranian women to watch football matches, something hardliners in Iran's theocratic state to this day still oppose.
Iran comprehensively beat Cambodia 14-0, the worst defeat in the southeast Asian country’s footballing history.
Women spectators in Iran have been barred from football and other stadiums for around 40 years, with clerics arguing they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.
Iran allocated only 4,000 tickets for women in a stadium that seats about 80,000 people, keeping them separated from men and under the protection of female police officers.
The majority of the Azadi - or "Freedom" - Stadium was empty except for the raucous crowd of women who could be heard chanting and cheering amid the match.
Read more: Iranian football fan dies after setting herself on fire protesting women's football ban
Iranian state television, which long has been controlled by hardliners in the Islamic Republic, aired footage of women cheering and commentators even acknowledged their presence.
That pressure has grown both with FIFA and Iran's soccer-loving public since September, when an Iranian woman was detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a soccer stadium died after setting herself on fire when she learned she could spend six months in prison for the "crime".
Sahar Khodayari's death sparked outrage on social media, with many celebrities, football players and activists using the hashtag #blue_girl to call on FIFA to ban Iran from international competitions and fans to boycott matches.
Agencies contributed to this report.