This World Cup, Iranian Women Made History

For the first time since 1979, they were allowed to watch soccer in a stadium.

For nearly 40 years, half of Iran's population was not allowed to go to a stadium to watch soccer, the country's single most popular sport. The defacto ban, instilled by religious clerics after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had prevented women from attending a majority of men's sporting events, and women who challenged it risked arrest and imprisonment. But the long-standing segregation policy loosened during the 2018 World Cup, when thousands of women poured into Azadi Stadium, Tehran’s largest sports stadium, to watch live broadcasts of their national team playing in the group stage. Here, moments that changed history.

DEMAND FOR THEIR RIGHTS Anadolu Agency/Getty Images DEMAND FOR THEIR RIGHTS The women didn’t win their freedom without putting up a fight. In March this year, 35 women were arrested for attempting to go to a game in Tehran, attended by FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino and Iran’s sports minister Masoud Soltanifar. After the incident, Iranian authorities announced that women would be allowed in the stadium soon. AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER The first game Iranian women were allowed to watch at the stadium was the June 20 match between Iran and Spain. But just hours before the game began, officials canceled the screening, citing “infrastructure difficulties.” Fans, including women, showed up at the stadium to protest the decision. Finally, the police gave in and opened the gates, after the game, which was being held in Russia, had already started. A SIGN OF DEFIANCE Alex Livesey/Getty Images A SIGN OF DEFIANCE At a match between Morocco and Iran held at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Russia on June 15, fans hold a sign supporting Iranian women being allowed to attend soccer matches.

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ANXIOUS Anadolu Agency/Getty Images ANXIOUS On June 25, women were again allowed inside Azadi Stadium to watch Iran play Portugal. Although Iran ultimately failed to advance to the knockout round, this World Cup still represents a monumental moment for Iranian women, some of whom have gone to great lengths to enjoy sports and evade punishment, including disguising themselves as men. (Pictured here: Women at Azadi Stadium for the live broadcast of the match between Iran and Portugal.) LADY LIBERTY Anadolu Agency/Getty Images LADY LIBERTY A woman waves a Iranian national flag at Azadi Stadium in Tehran during the Iran vs. Portugal game. NO SMALL VICTORY Anadolu Agency/Getty Images NO SMALL VICTORY A girl gives a hand gesture of victory at Azadi Stadium during the match between Iran and Portugal.

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