Iranian women took to a stadium-sized stage this month to voice their opposition to Iran’s ban on woman watching soccer in stadiums: the World Cup in Russia. During Iran’s match against Morocco in St. Petersburg, Iranian women covered themselves in the team’s colors and held banners protesting the ban for the whole world to see. That day, many women saw their country win its first World Cup game in 20 years.
— OpenStadiums (@openStadiums) June 15, 2018
Women have been banned from watching soccer in stadiums in Iran since 1980. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, the ban went into effect to “protect” women from the environment within the stadium. Last year, the government rolled back a ban on women attending volleyball games, allowing some Iranian women to see volleyball played live for the first time—but soccer is the country’s most popular event, and the World Cup is the most important soccer event for the country’s national team. The Washington Post reported that an Iranian man and woman stood outside the stadium in St. Petersburg with a sign that said “4127 KM to be at the stadium as a family,” referencing that it would have been impossible for them to watch the game together in the stadium back in Iran.
After Saudi Arabia lifted a similar ban on women watching soccer earlier this year, outrage began to mount among Iranian women against their government’s own policy. In March, BBC reported that 35 women were detained for trying to watch a match between two club teams. They were released after the game. Earlier that month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had assured FIFA president Gianni Infantino that women would soon be permitted to watch soccer in stadiums.
A group called OpenStadiums has been organizing on the ground in Iran to overturn the ban; in the past, women have tried to subvert the ban by going to extreme lengths to enter stadiums, including donning disguises, wigs and beards to sneak in. “We called ourselves White Scarves,” a representative from the group told Ms., “because they usually ripped our banners and we wrote on our scarves, which was in Farsi: ‘freedom is my share.’” At the World Cup, many women protesting wore disguises and refused to give last names when interviewed for fear of being arrested by the authorities when they return home.
On Tuesday, following the protest, local news organizations in Iran reported that women would be able to view a live stream of the next World Cup game in Azadi Stadium. Authorities ultimately cancelled the live stream just hours before it was supposed to happen, citing infrastructure issues, but fans of all gender nonetheless showed up in droves and demanded entry. Police eventually admitted everyone to enter, marking a historic moment for female soccer fans in Iran. Women had not entered that stadium in 38 years.
— OpenStadiums (@openStadiums) June 20, 2018
“It was amazing,” the activist from OpenStadiums told Ms. “The photos coming out of that, incredible.”
Activists are hopeful that the permission of women into Azadi Stadium marks a change in the status of the ban and that soon female fans will be welcomed into the seats of Iran’s stadiums just like their male counterparts.
“We know that we have to continue our fight,” said an OpenStadiums activist. “We will do it on any occasion.”