RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
Thousands of Iranian female fans have attended their national team's soccer World Cup qualifier against Cambodia at Tehran's Azadi Stadium.
The October 10 match was the first time since shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 that women were allowed to watch a men's game without needing special, rare invitations or being forced to sneak in disguised as men.
Some 3,500 tickets have been sold to female fans for the match, which Iran won 14-0. Those lucky ones were segregated from men and watched over by female police officers.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International called that a "token number" and a "publicity stunt," given that the stadium has a capacity of nearly 80,000.
Women have taken to social media to demand more tickets, using the hashtag #WakeUpFifa.
The ban on women attending men's sporting events came to global prominence after Sahar Khodayari, dubbed "Blue Girl" for the colors of her favorite team, lit herself on fire outside court last month as she awaited trial for trying to attend a match disguised as a man. She died on September 9.
FIFA, which has pressed Iran to allow women to attend qualifiers ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, has said it will "stand firm" in ensuring women have access to all soccer matches in Iran.
"It's not just about one match. We're not going to turn our eyes away from this," FIFA's head of education and social responsibility, Joyce Cook, told the BBC on October 9.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called October 10 "a historic day in Iran," but also urged the authorities to overturn "this discriminatory rule so that Iranian women can exercise their basic right to attend a football match just like men."
In a statement, Philip Luther of Amnesty International said that allowing only 3,500 tickets to be sold to women for the World Cup qualifier was "a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities intended to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari's tragic death."
"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," Luther added.
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