Game on

Women allowed into soccer stadium in Iran for 1st time in 37 years

Iranian football supporters wave their national flags as they cheer for their national team during a screening of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Spain in Azadi stadium in the capital Tehran on June 20, 2018. Women were allowed to enter the stadium to watch a broadcast of the game, the first time in 37 years women were permitted entry to watch soccer. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

An unusual sight filled many of the seats inside Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on Wednesday: women soccer fans. Officials opened up the stadium to women fans so they could join men in watching a televised broadcast of Team Melli’s matchup with Spain in the second round of the World Cup. It had been 37 years since women had been allowed into the venue to watch a game.

While the moment was an unquestionable show of progress, it didn’t happen without some static from the less progressive-minded. Police had initially denied women entry into the stadium and it was until Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli ordered the police to back off, according to BBC correspondent Hadi Nili.

Photos and videos of the momentous occasion were shared on social media by Open Stadiums, an advocacy group that has been pushing for women to be allowed to watch soccer live, and even by Iran’s national Team Melli, though at least one player was less than willing to discuss the pivotal moment. The Associated Press reported that Masoud Shojaei, the team’s captain, brushed off a question about women being allowed into Azadi Stadium asked by a reporter at a post-game press conference. “With all due respect for you and your question, we are not just a team. We are a family, and it’s our nation which is playing on the pitch,” Shojaei said. “If you want to talk about this issue, this is an internal issue that we prefer to solve problems within our family.

Of course, it’s not the first time in 37 years that a woman has made it inside Azadi Stadium to watch a soccer game — it’s just that when women have made it in, they’ve been disguised as men. And they’ve been arrested when they were found out. Those were were in Azadi Stadium on Wednesday watch Team Melli battle a hard-fought match against Spain, but it was a game they lost 1-0 in a heartbreaker. Earlier this week, Tara Sepehri Far wrote a piece for Women in the World about the experience of traveling to Saransk, Russia, to see Team Melli play in person for the first time in her life — and lamented the fact that women in Iran, until Wednesday, hadn’t been able to do the same.

Read the full story at The Bleacher Report.

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