Iran women attend football match for first time in 40 years
Iranian women entered the country's national stadium in Tehran on Thursday after being able to purchase tickets for a national team game for the first time in 40 years.
Women had been banned from watching men's games since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, with only a few exceptions made for small groups on rare occasions.
But under pressure from world governing body FIFA and women's rights campaigners, Iranian authorities earmarked around 3,000 tickets for women to attend Thursday's 14-0 World Cup Asian qualifier win against Cambodia in the 78,000-seat Azadi Stadium.
The tickets were for a special women's-only section of the stadium, a decision that had been criticised by some campaigners who would prefer women to be able to attend with their male family members.
Footage posted on social media showed women arriving at the stadium more than two hours before the scheduled kickoff time. The women waved flags and blew "vuvuzela" horns while the rest of the stadium was still mostly empty.
FIFA released a statement following the match saying it was "encouraged" by the historic day.
"This is a very positive step forward, and one which FIFA, and especially Iranian girls and women, have been eagerly waiting for," the statement read. "The passion, joy and enthusiasm they showed today was remarkable to see and encourages us even more to continue the path we have started. History teaches us that progress comes in stages and this is just the beginning of a journey.
"Consequently, FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.
"There can be no stopping or turning back now."
But while women's rights activists have welcomed the access granted for Thursday's game, it is unclear whether such scenes will become the norm in Iran, with the domestic league restarting Oct. 21.
A report posted by the semiofficial Fars news agency warned that women attending Thursday's match could be exposed to foul language, drug use and even violence.
"Now that the government has decided to let women into Azadi stadium ... we must be hopeful that the spectators will try to respect Iranian women in order to change the public atmosphere of the stadium," the report said.
FIFA stepped up pressure on Iran to meet commitments allowing women to attend World Cup qualifiers following the death last month of Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire to protest against her arrest for trying to get into a match.
Dubbed "Blue Girl" online for her favourite team Esteghlal's colours, Khodayari had feared being jailed for six months by the Islamic Revolutionary Court for trying to enter a stadium dressed as a man.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has urged Iranian authorities to open up stadiums to women for all games, not just World Cup qualifiers.
The sport's governing body has sent officials to Tehran to monitor access for women at the match and said it will continue to press for their inclusion.
"FIFA's stance on the access of women to the stadiums in Iran has been firm and clear: women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches," it said in a statement. "Further details on the next steps to be implemented to ensure the future access of women to the stadiums in Iran will follow once we have performed a thorough assessment of Thursday's match based on the input provided by the FIFA delegation that is present in Tehran."