'I cried when I saw the pitch,' say Iranian women finally allowed in stadium
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Although Iran just missed out on qualifying for the World Cup's final 16, its fans have a lot to be cheerful about. Not only did 'Team Melli', the country's national team, play extremely well, but there was something else that made supporters celebrate. Female supporters were able to enter a stadium to watch a live broadcast of the Iran-Portugal match on Monday, June 25. Women have been banned from entering stadiums ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It happened once before, just five days earlier, when female supporters were authorised to go to Tehran's Azadi stadium to watch the broadcast of Iran's match with Spain on June 20. But the fact that it occurred a second time made it feel like it wasn't a fluke.
For the first match the Azadi stadium had announced that "families" were allowed to go to the event, without making it clear whether women were included in the term "family". But it turned out that they were - and thousands of women made the most of the opportunity.
"I also felt angry, thinking about all of those years when we were banned from going into stadiums"
On Monday, women got to do it again, and were amongst the 35,000 people who watched the match from inside Tehran's stadium.
It's clearly an important step for Iranian women after a four decade-long ban. Our Observer Niloufar Hamedi went to both of the broadcasts, with one of her younger (female) cousins.
For the first match with Spain, the whole thing was an emotional rollercoaster. At first, the police told us we weren't allowed to enter. We had to wait for several hours, before finally being let in. Everyone, men and women, ran as fast as they could to the stadium gates, as if we were frightened someone would stop us. Everyone was happy, everyone was smiling.
When I saw the pitch for the first time, I cried. I couldn't stop. I happened to see a female friend of mine, and we hugged each other and cried together. But deep down, I couldn't help but feel some anger, thinking about all of these years that we've been banned from going into stadiums.
"People from all social classes were sitting together"
At the second match, I was more focused on the football because Iran had a chance of qualifying for the next round.
Iran equalised with Portugal at the last minute, which caused an explosion of jubilation in Tehran's stands.
In any case, it was interesting to see people from different social classes sitting together, young people, older people, liberals, religious people... I was sitting next to a very religious family. The father was chatting with everyone and the mother wouldn't stop praying for Iran to win. Men told me, "Believe me, it's not just the women who are happy. We're in the same unusual situation, being with women at a stadium."
"Will they let us watch a real match one day?"
Since 1979, Iranian authorities have said that stadiums are not safe for women because the atmosphere can get too rowdy. In the last few years, some women have been going to lengths to watch matches in person - like giving themselves fake beards and dressing in men's clothing. On Monday, women who were grateful to be undisguised, took the opportunity to draw attention to past inequality.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Iranian women don beards and makeup to sneak into football matches
Our Observer added:
At no point did I feel harassed or even hear someone say something abusive during these two matches. At one point, one guy insulted the referee in the match against Portugal, but one of his friends calmed him down. I thought that the men in the stands were very respectful.
But even if they let us go to a broadcast, it's hard to say whether they will let us see a real match. But I don't see anything standing in our way. To me, doing a broadcast even first was just a kind of test for the security guards to see if everything went well with women in the stadium.