Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian women were freely allowed Thursday to attend a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Tehran for the first time since 1981, reports the New York Times.
Why it matters: It marks a significant step in the push for increased gender equality in Iran and turned the team's throttling of Cambodia (final score: 14-0) into what the Times branded one of "the most consequential sporting events to be played in years."
- Women have been protesting the ban since its inception — even disguising themselves as men to gain entry to matches.
- FIFA had long remained silent on the issue, but contemplated banning Iran from the 2022 World Cup as a result — which would be a harsh sanction against a successful team.
- The issue made waves internationally after a female fan, Sahar Khodayari, died after setting herself on fire earlier this year following a 6-month prison sentence for attending a soccer game.
The big picture: The policy change only applies to matches between Iran's national teams and other countries. It's still not clear if women will be allowed to attend domestic club matches.
- Officials also capped the number of women allowed to attend Thursday's match at a few thousand, even though the stadium can seat 78,000 — resulting in a largely empty stadium with a packed section of female fans.