Iranian female soccer fans entered the national stadium for the first time in 40 years Thursday to watch their side thrash Cambodia 14-0 in Tehran.
Iran’s ban on women attending sports stadiums is not written into law but was put in place shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But following pressure from human rights group and the sport’s world governing body FIFA, Iran agreed to permit women to enter the stadium.
The initial allocation of 3,500 tickets for female fans was quickly sold out — reportedly in under an hour — before an additional 1,100 were released for the World Cup qualifier.
“This is a very positive step forward, and one which FIFA, and especially Iranian girls and women, have been eagerly waiting for,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
“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.”
Inside the stadium, those present were treated to 14 unanswered goals by the home team as it made light work of 169th ranked Cambodia.
Karim Ansarifard scored four and Zenit St. Petersburg striker Sardar Azmoun netted a hat-trick in a game that Iran led 7-0 at the interval.
Cambodia’s misery was compounded by a second-half penalty miss against its 23rd ranked host.
‘Discriminatory, deceptive, dangerous’
While Thursday’s game marks a step forward for Iranian women watching football matches, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the cap of 4,600 female fans “discriminatory, deceptive, and dangerous.”
“The effective 5% quota on seats for women contravenes FIFA’s constitution, statutes, and its human rights policy,” the organization said.
“Article 4 of its statutes states that discrimination against women ‘is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion’ of the FIFA member.'”
When asked if these conditions truly meet its statutes that prohibit gender discrimination, FIFA told CNN: “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.
“In line with our stance, we are working to ensure the safe access of women to tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup qualifier between Iran and Cambodia. We reaffirm our position that the number of women in the stadium needs to be determined by the demand for such tickets, without any arbitrary limitation being imposed.
“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.”
The Iranian Football Federation (FFIRI) was not immediately available for comment.
On Tuesday, Iranian Twitter users started using the hashtag #WakeUpFIFA, urging world football’s governing body to allow more women to attend the qualifier against Cambodia.
In recent months, FIFA has come under increasing pressure to force Iran to overturn its ban on women entering sports stadiums, in particular following the death of Sahar Khodayari, a female fan who set herself on fire after she was denied access to a football stadium in Tehran.
Dubbed the “Blue Girl” on social media after the colors of her favorite Iranian football team, Esteghlal, Khodayari was charged with “openly committing a sinful act” by “appearing in public without a hijab” when she attempted to enter a stadium “dressed as a man” in March, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
Khodayari appeared in a Tehran court last month. When the case was adjourned, she poured gasoline over herself and set herself on fire. She died on Monday September 9.