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Thursday 10 October 2019

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The Iran-Cambodia game in Tehran on October 10 will mark the first time since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that women can watch a men's match without needing special, rare invitations. (file photo)

After a ban lasting nearly four decades, Iranian women will finally be allowed to watch a men's soccer match at Tehran's Azadi Stadium on October 10 as Iran takes on Cambodia in a World Cup qualifier.

Many women -- particularly those lucky to have secured one of only 3,500 tickets allotted for women -- and plenty of men have been celebrating ahead of the occasion, including a Tehran-based journalist who says she's overjoyed.

"I feel like I'm entering a new world, a world that is totally unknown," she told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "I'm full of anxiety and joy in anticipation of [the moment] when for the first time I will walk through those dark tunnels that I have only seen on TV and see the light and the soccer field and then I will sit in my own seat and watch the game that I love."

The journalist, who did not want to be named, said she feels "overwhelmed" ahead of the Iran-Cambodia match, the first time she has ever watched men play live in a stadium despite a lifelong passion for the sport.

"I've been a soccer fan for as long as I can remember -- a fan of [the famed Tehran club] Esteghlal -- I've watched soccer matches [on television all my life] and the fact that now, less than a month before my 31st birthday, I will be able for the first time to go to Azadi Stadium and watch a soccer match makes me very emotional."

No Additional Tickets

There has been much greater demand by female fans than the meager 3,500 tickets that were sold to women for the match, where they will sit segregated from men and surrounded by female police officers.

Before the game, a group of women gathered in front of the stadium seeking tickets for the game in Azadi Stadium, which has an estimated capacity of nearly 80,000.

But despite the fact that the game is not sold out, officials said there would be no additional tickets provided for the women and that they should return home.

The journalist told RFE/RL she couldn't stop crying when her husband managed to buy her a ticket.

"I think I cried for 12, 13 hours nonstop when I couldn't buy a ticket online and then, finally, my husband got me one.... I still can't talk about it; I'm not exaggerating but I cried for two hours after that."

"I don't think many people will understand exactly [how I feel]," she said.

'Women Paid A Price'

The journalist added that the decision to allow women into the stadium to watch a men's game is the result of years of efforts by women's rights activists who've been pressuring the world soccer governing body FIFA to take action.

"Many say [women are being allowed to enter stadiums] under pressure from FIFA," she said.

"But that's not the case. If FIFA really wanted, this could have happened a long time ago. FIFA was forced to pressure Iran's soccer federation because women paid a price, a woman [even] self-immolated herself; women have remained behind the closed doors of stadiums over and over, they've been beaten up, detained, and faced many other issues [because they wanted to attend men's football matches]."

"I don't think it's fair to say that it's Western and FIFA pressure that led to this; it's [Iranian] women's pressure on the international community that made it possible," she said.

"I'm very, very excited -- I keep asking my husband several times per day 'what can I take with me? What should I do [in the stadium]?'" she added.

FIFA ultimately set a deadline for Iran to allow women into the stadium and sent a team of officials to Tehran to ensure that authorities were working to ensure that females would attend the World Cup qualifier on October 10. FIFA has said its position is firm in that it wants Iran to allow women to be able to attend men's football matches at all levels in Iran.

The Iran-Cambodia game in Tehran will mark the first time since shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 that women can watch a men's match without needing special, rare invitations or being forced to sneak in disguised as a man.

Cambodia is ranked 169th in FIFA's ranking of its 210 members and is considered a heavy underdog against Iran, which is ranked 23rd in the world and has been a consistent qualifier for the prestigious World Cup, which is held every four years.

Written by Golnaz Esfandiari based on an interview by Radio Farda broadcaster Roya Karimi
Ivan Podkopayev in court in Moscow (file photo)

A Moscow court has reduced the sentence of a protester who was convicted of allegedly using pepper spray on a police officer and later changed his plea to not guilty.

Tver district court Judge Yelena Lavrova said on October 9 that she was cutting Ivan Podkopayev's sentence by one year to two years in prison. She did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, a Moscow court upheld a three-year sentence imposed last month against Kirill Zhukov, who was convicted on charges of using violence against police during the same Moscow rally in late July.

Investigators alleged that Zhukov made contact with the helmet of a security officer who was involved in a cordon during the unsanctioned protest.

Zhukov's supporters said the sentence was grossly unfair and that it was clear from footage of the incident that he had barely touched the officer's helmet.

Podkopayev and Zhukov are among dozens of protesters who were fined or given jail sentences for organizing and participating in a series of sanctioned and unsanctioned rallies in Moscow over the summer.

Protesters were angered by officials' actions to block independent and opposition candidates from running in the September 8 municipal elections.

Podkopayev, a 25-year-old technician, originally pleaded guilty to the charge against him, but he later withdrew that admission during his appeal and pleaded not guilty.

Podkopayev admitted to using the spray during a July 27 pro-democracy rally, but said he was defending himself from National Guard officers who were assaulting him.

Police and legal officials were sharply criticized for their heavy-handed tactics during and after the protests, which drew some of the biggest crowds since demonstrations against election manipulation in 2011 and 2012.

Thousands of people were detained, and several were given stiff prison terms in connection with the protests.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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