Iranian women sing their national anthem at Tehran's Azadi Stadium just before the Iranian men's national team kicked off against Bolivia in a friendly soccer match, Oct. 16, 2018. It was the first time in decades that an organized group of Iranian w
Iranian women sing their national anthem at Tehran's Azadi Stadium just before the Iranian men's national team kicked off against Bolivia in a friendly soccer match, Oct. 16, 2018. It was the first time in decades that an organized group of Iranian w

Iran has allowed an organized group of women to attend a men's soccer match at a Tehran stadium for the first time in decades, after years of campaigning by activists against a ban on female attendance.

Iranian state-run news agency ILNA said about 100 women watched Tuesday's friendly match between the Iranian and Bolivian national teams from a women's-only section in the upper stands of Azadi Stadium. Iran won the match 2-1.

ILNA said the group of spectators included female employees of Iran's soccer federation and members of the Iranian women's national soccer team, along with female journalists and other women who were allowed to enter the stadium at the last minute. Photos of the women published on a state-run news site showed them singing Iran's national anthem and happily waving Iranian flags.

A video received and verified by VOA Persian showed the female spectators cheering one of the Iranian team's goals.

The ILNA report said it was the first time in about 35 years that such a group of women had attended a men's soccer match at Azadi Stadium. Iran's Islamist rulers, who took power in a 1979 revolution, have barred women from attending some men's sporting events, especially soccer, since the early 1980s.

In a statement sent to VOA Persian after Tuesday's match, Brussels-based women's rights campaigner Darya Safai dismissed the admission of the female spectators into Azadi Stadium as a "trick" by Iranian authorities.

"As long as women cannot buy tickets, the stadium ban is not lifted," she said. There were no reports of Iranian women being able to buy tickets for the match. 

"It is the same as what they do for [men's] volleyball — under pressure from activists, they pick some women who can enter [the stadium], but it is just a big show-off," Safai said. "As long as Iranian women cannot buy tickets and the stadium ban is still operative, we will keep on fighting."

Still rare

Women have been allowed to attend some men's volleyball and basketball games in Iran in recent years.

But female attendance at such Iranian sporting events remains rare. Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a prominent Iranian religious leader, has been one of the strongest supporters of banning women from sporting venues. News site IranWire quoted him last December as telling students during a lecture that the presence of women in stadiums "inevitably" leads to morally corrupt acts.

Four of the Iranian men's team players who participated in Tuesday's victory over Bolivia expressed a different view. In separate interviews with ILNA, strikers Karim Ansarifard and Mehdi Taremi, midfielder Saman Ghoddos and goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand all welcomed the presence of women in the stands and expressed hope that female attendance would continue.

"It should begin from somewhere, and this is a good start," Taremi said.

This article originated in VOA's Persian service.