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Iran Again Bans Women from Soccer Stadium


Iran supporters wave the national flag during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers football match between Iran and Lebanon, at the Imam Reza Stadium in the city of Mashhad, March 29, 2022.

Iran has once again denied women entry to a soccer stadium to watch an international match, leaving hundreds of ticketed fans locked out, Iranian media said Wednesday.

The World Cup qualifier against Lebanon on Tuesday night, won 2-0 by Iran, was played at the Imam Reza stadium in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

"About 2,000 Iranian women, who had bought tickets for the Iran-Lebanon match, were present in the perimeter of Imam Reza stadium, but could not enter the stadium," ISNA news agency said.

Iran's team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh joined in criticism of the lockout.

"I don't think anything would have happened if women had come to the stadium, and this could promote our culture," he said, quoted on IRIB state television.

Mohsen Davari, governor of Mashhad, told IRIB: "I apologize that many people couldn't enter the stadium."

"Unfortunately, a large number of people outside the stadium were deprived of watching the game."

In the face of the controversy, President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday instructed the interior ministry to look into the incident.

For his part, Iran's attorney general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said on radio that "if conditions allowed the sale of tickets to women, a suitable place had to be found for them."

The case was "not acceptable... and shows poor management," he said.

In January, women were allowed to attend an international for the first time in almost three years, for a World Cup qualifier against Iraq.

The Islamic republic has generally barred female spectators from soccer and other sports stadiums since it was established in 1979.

Clerics, who play a major role in decision-making, argue women must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

But world soccer's governing body FIFA ordered Iran in September 2019 to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers to be determined according to demand for tickets.

The FIFA directive, threatening Iran's suspension from competitions, came after a fan, Sahar Khodayari, died having set herself on fire in fear of being jailed after trying to attend a match in disguise.

She had reportedly been detained in 2018 as she tried to enter a stadium dressed as a male.

Her death sparked an outcry, resulting in calls for Iran to be banned and its matches boycotted.

FIFA had been pushing for years for Iran to open its stadiums to women, but Tehran had until 2019 only allowed a limited number of women to attend matches on rare occasions.

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