Iranian women attend FIFA football game for first time in decades

Iranian women cheer as they hold a huge Iranian flag during a match between their national team and Cambodia in the 2022 World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 October 2019

Iranian women attend FIFA football game for first time in decades

  • Iranian women watched as their national team thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium
  • The effort to allow women back into stadiums has gone through fits and starts

TEHRAN: They had to sit well apart from the men, and the stadium was practically empty, but thousands of Iranian women in merry jester hats and face paint blew horns and cheered Thursday at the first FIFA football match they were allowed to freely attend in decades.
In what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country’s vibrant red, green and white colors and watched with excitement as Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium.
“We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It’s an extraordinary feeling,” said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known football games from television. “At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.”
As one woman shouted from a passing minibus before the match: “We are here finally!“
So far, Iran’s hard-line Islamic theocracy is not willing to go as far some women would like. Authorities announced they will allow women to attend only international football matches.
Women have been banned from many sporting events in Iran since 1981, during the early years of the country’s Islamic Revolution. Iran is the world’s last nation to bar women from football matches. Saudi Arabia recently began letting women see games.
Under pressure from FIFA, Iran let a carefully controlled number of women into the stadium, allocating them 4,000 tickets in a venue that seats about 80,000 people, and arranged for 150 female security personnel in black chadors to watch them. They sat at least 200 meters (yards) from the few thousand men at the match.
Iranian state television, which long has been controlled by hard-liners, aired footage of women cheering, and commentators even acknowledged their presence.
“There can be no stopping or turning back now,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “History teaches us that progress comes in stages, and this is just the beginning of a journey.”
Iran faced a potential ban from FIFA international matches if it didn’t allow women into the game. The pressure from FIFA and Iran’s football-loving public has grown since September, when an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a match set herself on fire and died upon learning she could get six months in prison.
The self-immolation of 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari, who became known as the “Blue Girl” for her love of the Iranian team Esteghlal, whose uniforms are blue, shocked Iranian officials and the public.
At the match Thursday, a reporter with Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency posted a video online of chador-wearing officers trying to grab a woman she said had a sign in Khodayari’s honor. The crowd could be heard chanting, “Let her go!” The reporter wrote on Twitter that the woman slipped away from officers and ran off.
Hard-liners and traditional Shiite clerics, citing their interpretation of Islamic law, believe in segregating men and women at public events, as well as keeping women out of men’s sporting events.
The effort to allow women back into stadiums has gone through fits and starts.
In 2006, then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wanted women to attend matches to “improve football-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere.” However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, opposed the decision.
Then, last year, Iranian authorities allowed a select group of women into Azadi Stadium by invitation only to watch the Asian Champion League final.
Infantino said that “FIFA now looks more than ever toward a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment.”


Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

Updated 13 November 2019

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

  • Austrian fifth seed took fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph

LONDON: Dominic Thiem produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Tuesday, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.

In the standout match so far at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix at the end-of-season event with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.

Federer and Djokovic will face off on Thursday in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else will progress from Group Bjorn Borg.

Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking the breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands

Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27 but also racked up 44 unforced errors.

“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semifinals, which is the best.

“Coming back from 1-4 (down in the deciding tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”

In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tie-break.

Undaunted, Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.

Thiem also drew first blood in the decider but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic levelled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.

The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.

He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match but stumbled and the decider went to a tie-break.

Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.

Third seed Federer had put himself under the cosh by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem. The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.

The Swiss upped his game to take the first set tie-break comfortably and broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.

Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.

“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” said the Swiss.

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record and is also seeking to pip Rafael Nadal to the year-end number one ranking.

On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.