Iran for first time in decades allows women into football stadium

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Starting Thursday, women in Iran will be free to enter a football stadium, after FIFA threatened to suspend the Islamic republic over its controversial male-only policy.

Iran has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years, with clerics arguing they must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

"Anything short of a full reversal of the ban on women accessing all football stadiums is an insult to Sahar Khodayari's memory and an affront to the rights of all the women of Iran who have been courageously campaigning for the ban to be lifted".

Iran's Fars News Agency said the women who attend Thursday's match will be segregated from the men and monitored by 150 female police officers. But this time, the eyes of the world will be on the match in Iran's Azadi Stadium - not so much on the pitch, but in the stands.

Amnesty International's Philip Luther, said that only allowing 3 500 tickets to be sold to women for the World Cup qualifier was "a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities meant to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari's tragic death".

Iran has essentially banned women from entering the stadium for decades.

Sahar Khodayari had been caught disguising herself as a man to watch her blue kit-wearing favourite team Esteghlal in action.

One football journalist, Raha Poorbakhsh, has never been able to watch a football match live before, despite reporting on the sport for years.

She said: "I still can't believe this is going to happen because after all these years of working in this field, watching everything on television, now I can experience everything in person".

The ban has been in place since 1979's Islamic revolution, with only small groups of women allowed to attend a handful of matches in recent years. Amnesty International criticized Iran's authorities for allotting so few tickets to women in a stadium that can seat 78,000. "The worldwide community, including world football's governing body, FIFA, must also ensure that woman are permitted to attend all matches". Women are not allowed to enter the soccer stadium in Iran.

In October, as many as 100 "handpicked" Iranian women watched a friendly against Bolivia.

The issue has been divisive in Iran. "The government should be thinking of this, not sending them to stadiums", it quoted a mother as saying.

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