Iranian women allowed into Azadi Stadium to watch ACL final showdown

November 12 – In a landmark move viewed as a partial breakthrough in gender discrimination, hundreds of Iranian women were allowed to watch the weekend’s Asian Champions League final in Tehran between Persepolis and Japan’s Kashima Antlers.

They were separated from male fans in a crowd of around 80,000 and while the move will be viewed by human rights groups as a step forward, most of the women were said to be relatives of players or members of women’s teams rather than female fans who simply wanted to attend.

Kashima beat Persepolis 2-0 on aggregate after the second half ended goalless at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

Last month about 100 women were allowed to watch a friendly between Iran and Bolivia, but restrictions were quickly reinstated afterwards. Iranian women and girls have rarely been allowed at men’s sporting events since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and have not been able to attend top football matches since 1981.

Open Stadiums, a group which campaigns for access to venues for women in Iran, handed a petition to FIFA this week signed by more than 200,000 people, according to Reuters. Ending the exclusion “has been our dream for decades”, said a spokesperson for the group.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s presence at the weekend’s game and Iran’s attempt to play down criticism of its men-only policy will not be lost on observers, however.

Last week women’s rights activists who have been calling for Tehran to end the ban on Iranian women attending men’s games took their campaign to FIFA and met with secretary general Fatma Samoura.

The talks were led by Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei, founder of the NoBan4Women Campaign who said she spoke with Samoura for about 25 minutes.

“FIFA’s job is to protect its own principles. Gender discrimination is against those rules. That is the only thing we asked, just to follow your own rules,” Shojaei was quoted as saying after the meeting.

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