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A Historic Day in Iran

October 10, 2019 will go down in history as one of the most significant dates in the history of women’s rights in Iran and Iranian soccer.

Women were allowed entry into an Iranian soccer stadium for the first time in almost 40 years for Iran’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against minnows Cambodia. Iran gave the Cambodians, coached by Japanese legend Keisuke Honda, a 14-0 drubbing, but the result was overshadowed by the faces in the stands.

Tragedy and Minor Success

The ban, introduced by conservatives in 1981, has been a major talking point for women’s rights activists in Iran and abroad for decades. The catalyst for the temporary lift of the ban was a tragedy that shook the soccer world. In the wake of receiving a six-month prison sentence for trying to support her beloved Esteghlal, Sahar Khodayari, also known as “Blue Girl,” died by suicide.

The self-immolation of Blue Girl led to a huge outcry of support on social media with thousands using #bluegirl to mourn Sahar’s death. Both FIFA and Iran were widely criticized, and the media pressure bore fruit. After decades of standing idly by, the authorities finally acted.

Baby Steps

Iran’s governing body temporarily lifted the ban, and on October 10th, thousands of women streamed into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch their national team. However, this is a very small step in the right direction. The women in the stadium were heavily policed and isolated from the men, and it is not yet known if the ban will be lifted permanently. Seven rounds of the Persian Gulf Pro League have already been played, but it remains to be seen if women will be allowed to watch Iran’s domestic soccer competition in person going forward.

The Fight Rages On

The fight for women’s rights in the Middle East and parts of the Arabic world continues. Gender separation at soccer matches is, and perhaps always will be, a huge issue in certain areas of the globe. FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has promised to continue advocating for women’s rights, but as everyone already knows, every FIFA statement should be taken with a grain of salt.

Illustration by @jamieorrell

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