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'I Feel Like I'm Entering A New World': Iranian Women Excited To Attend Men's Soccer Match For First Time


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
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