Mounting pressure to allow soccer fans, regardless of gender, into Tehran’s soccer appeared to be working earlier this week.
Iranian officials announced they would open the stadium to families to watch the World Cup, which started on Thursday in Russia, from inside on big screens.
The country has long barred women from attending soccer matches and other sports events that feature male athletes, and allowing families in would require a mixed-gender setting.
Earlier this year, female soccer fans started donning fake beards and wigs to attend local and international matches in defiance of the ban.
Activists on Twitter and other social media platforms are calling on FIFA, the international association behind the World Cup, to uphold its own anti-discrimination policy and demand that as a competitor, Iran allow women into stadiums during the competition.
Even pop culture is speaking up, with an Iranian music band releasing a song to support women’s right to enjoy sports just like men.
In the song “Stadium" by the band reggae/rock/ska band Abjeez, the lyrics calls on Iranian men to support women in their fight to be permitted by the government into sports arena saying,” the empty seat by your side, is my place.” To add visuals to their message, Abjeez also made a music video, which was sponsored by the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Abjeez, which means sisters in Persian slang, is comprised of sisters Melody and Safoura Safavi.
The Safavi sisters were born in Iran and moved to Sweden as kids with their parents, and now live in what Melody describes as “self-imposed exile” in New York.
The pair write all of their own music and lyrics and perform internationally to sold-out crowds. In addition to being artists, they consider themselves Iranian women’s rights activists.
President Hassan Rouhani has campaigned twice on the promise of lifting the ban, but has been unwilling to stand up to the pressures of the powerful clerical hardliners in the system.
Officials often say the regulation is in place because in an Islamic environment, women should not be subjected to hearing male fans curse. Women are increasingly saying they can decide for themselves.
In March, Iranian authorities detained several women for trying to get into a major soccer match in Tehran, as Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, attended the game.
The female fans were not actually arrested but rather transferred to a “proper place” by police, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
It’s a promise that Iranian fans have heard before, but have never seen put into practice.
Officials say they are still hoping to allow families into the stadium for future matches Iran participates in this year’s World Cup.