Thousands of Iranian women in merry jester hats and face paint blew horns and cheered Thursday at the first FIFA soccer match they were allowed to freely attend in decades.
In what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country’s vibrant red, green and white colors and watched with excitement as Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium, although they had to sit well apart from the men.
Women have effectively been banned from stadiums when men are playing since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The change followed the death of a fan who had set herself alight after being arrested for trying to attend a match.
“There can be no stopping or turning back now,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “History teaches us that progress comes in stages, and this is just the beginning of a journey.”
Iran faced a potential ban from FIFA international matches if it didn’t allow women into the game.
Infantino said that “FIFA now looks more than ever toward a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.”
“We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling,” said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known soccer games from television. “At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”
As one woman shouted from a passing minibus before the match: “We are here finally!”