Soccer is Iran’s most popular spectator sport, but ever since the 1979 revolution, women have not been allowed to watch men’s soccer matches.

That precedent changed Tuesday, when, according to Iranian state media, women were able to attend a soccer match for the first time in 35 years. Close to 100 women — employees of the Iranian federation and members of the women’s national team — cheered and waved flags in the stands of Tehran’s Azadi Stadium as Iran’s national soccer team played a friendly against Bolivia.

Team Melli, which literally means “the nation’s team,” enjoys tremendous support. Club teams attract crowds that rival those in Europe. Women have disguised themselves as men, with fake beards and mustaches, to gain entry to soccer stadiums. Those who succeed have been cheered on as national trailblazers. Some business owners have risked fines or arrest to show national team games to mixed-gender crowds.

This was a product of new rules following the revolution, which stipulated that women were not allowed to watch popular sports, including soccer, wrestling and volleyball, in person or in public places such as restaurants. The country’s largely secular populace has pushed back on that restriction as part of a political movement demanding more personal liberties, according to Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. (Vatanka’s father played for the Iranian national soccer team before the revolution.)

It marks a considerable moment for Iranian civil society, Vatakana said, after Team Melli’s strong showing in the World Cup.

“A young person looks at state news and hears the [Persian proxy fighters] are doing well in Syria, but for the average young, secular person, it’s hard to understand that as good news,” Vatanka said. “Going to these soccer matches, supporting your team, being mainstream at an international soccer tournament, it’s a way to say, we’re normal.”

But Iran’s political establishment made clear after the match that women will not be allowed into future sporting events. The country’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, an unelected official who answers to the supreme leader, said he will order Tehran’s government to prosecute stadium officials who allow women into men’s sporting events.

“I object to the presence of women in Azadi Stadium yesterday. We are a Muslim state, we are Muslims,” Montazeri said, according to Agence France-Presse. “We will deal with any official who wants to allow women inside stadiums under any pretext. When a woman goes to a stadium and is faced with half-naked men in sports clothes and sees them it will lead to sin.”

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