The bumpy road Iranian women have travelled in order to gain free access to stadiums has not been without tragedy.
Sahar Khodayari died last month after setting herself ablaze outside a court in fear of being jailed for attending a match.
Dubbed “blue girl” because of the colours of the club she supported — Tehran giants Esteghlal FC — she had reportedly been detained last year when trying to enter a stadium dressed as a boy.
Her death sparked an outcry, with many calling for Iran to be banned and matches boycotted.
The judiciary dismissed reports she had been told she would be jailed, and Khodayari’s father said she did not “sacrifice” herself for any cause.
– Shadow of FIFA –
Ahead of Qatar 2022, FIFA has pressed Iran to allow women to attend qualifiers.
But Iran denied its decision to allow women into Thursday’s match was a result of “foreign pressure”.
“The presence of #women in stadiums is due to the internal social demands and government’s support of those demands,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei tweeted.
The ban on women in stadiums is not written into law or regulations, but it has been strictly enforced.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, women have only had rare access to stadiums in Iran.
About 20 Irish women attended a World Cup qualifier in 2001, and four years later a few dozen Iranian women watched the national team take on Bahrain.
In October, as many as 100 “handpicked” Iranian women watched a friendly against Bolivia.
The day after, the prosecutor general warned there would be no repeat, saying it would “lead to sin”.
Then in November, a select group of about 850 women attended a match between Esteghlal’s Tehran rivals, Persepolis FC, and Japan’s Kashima Antlers.
The issue continues to be deeply divisive in Iran.
Reformists have welcomed the latest move, but conservatives have come out strongly against it.
The Donya-e-Eqtesad financial newspaper called it “a step to weaken a taboo and also free Iran’s football of the looming shadow of FIFA’s punishment”.
But the ultra-conservative Kayhan daily said women were more concerned about economic issues.