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FIFA chief hails ‘breakthrough’ after Iranian women allowed to attend Tehran soccer final

Female Iranian spectators clap hands as they wait to start a soccer match between Iran's Persepolis and Japan's Kashima Antlers during the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League finals at the Azadi (freedom) stadium in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
Women have been barred from sporting stadiums since the 1979 Islamic revolution

Hundreds of Iranian women were allowed to attend a major soccer match in Tehran on Saturday, in a move hailed as a “breakthrough” by the head of international soccer federation FIFA in light of the Islamic Republic’s longstanding ban on female fans at men’s sporting events.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reported that hundreds of women attended the Asia Champions League final between Persepolis FC and Japan’s Kashima Antlers at Tehran’s Azadi stadium on Saturday.

Pictures posted by the state-run agency showed female fans donning the red colors of Iran’s Persepolis FC and waving Iranian flags as they cheered from the stands.

Most of the women in attendance were reportedly relatives of Persepolis players or members of Iran’s women's soccer teams.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was at the game, said 1,000 women were allowed to attend. He said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani informed him before the game that the women would be allowed to attend, following negotiations on the matter, calling it “a real breakthrough”.

“This was an important and major first step in the right direction and I am convinced that through continued dialogue, further progress will be achieved in the near future,” Infantino said in a statement.

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Women have been barred from sporting stadiums since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Many Iranian clerics oppose women attending football matches, saying they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere, though the ruling is frequently criticized from across the political spectrum.

President Hassan Rouhani's moderate government wants to ease restrictions to some events, and women have been allowed in the past to attend basketball and volleyball events, albeit from a separate section of the stands.

The ban was the subject of the award-winning 2006 film "Offside" by Jafar Panahi, in which a group of girls dress up a boys to sneak into the Azadi stadium to watch that year's World Cup qualifying playoff against Bahrain.

Iranian women continue to defy the ban and sneak into “men-only” games by dressing as men, risking arrest but often drawing online praise.

In June, thousands of women were permitted entry into Tehran's largest football stadium together with men for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to watch Iran play Spain in the 2018 World Cup.

But in March, 35 women were arrested for trying to attend a match between Iranian teams Perepolis and Esteqlal, where Infantino was present.

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