Hundreds of Iranian women have been allowed to attend the Asia Champions League final in Tehran, local media report, in what was seen as a possible step toward ending their decades-old exclusion from top soccer matches.
Most of the women who watched Tehran’s Persepolis soccer team play against Japan's Kashima Antlers in the Azadi stadium on November 10 were said to be relatives of players, members of women's teams, or football federation employees.
The two teams tied 0-0 but the Japanese team was crowned Asia's top soccer club, winning 2-0 on aggregate following its first-leg victory in Japan.
A picture on the front page of the reformist Sazandegi daily showed women cheering in the stadium with a headline reading, "Iranian Women's Victory in Asian Finals."
The match was attended by Gianni Infantino, the president of soccer's world governing body FIFA, who said he was "delighted to personally" see Iranian female football fans inside the stadium.
"Today is a historic and festive day for football, a real breakthrough," Infantino said in a statement.
Salman al-Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), also called the night “historic,” and thanked the Iranian authorities “for making it possible for a diverse and socially representative crowd to witness an extraordinary occasion.”
Soccer stadiums in Iran have been off-limits for women for much of the 39 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In a rare move last month, about 100 women were allowed to watch a friendly match between Iran and Bolivia at the Azadi stadium.
Yet, a senior judiciary official quickly blasted the women’s presence at the stadium, saying that it was sinful for women to watch "half-naked" men play soccer.
Conservatives have claimed that the ban on women attending major men's sporting events protects them from hearing crude language and seeing male athletes wearing revealing uniforms.
Rights activists have blasted the ban as an example of gender discrimination in the Islamic republic.
FIFA will work with Iran to end the ban on women attending matches, General Secretary Fatma Samoura tweeted on November 8 following talks with Iranian women's activist Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei.
However, Samoura provided no detail as to when a breakthrough could be expected.
"I am so optimistic that they take steps to allow all women into the stadiums," Shojaei told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Zurich, where she presented Samoura with an online petition signed by 200,000 people.