Women Attend Iran Soccer Match for First Time Since 1981 Ban

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Iranian women attend a soccer match in Tehran

Iranian women attended the nation's 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia on Thursday, marking a historic reversal of a nearly four-decade policy. 

Women were barred from attending soccer matches beginning in 1981, with the policy extending to volleyball and basketball games. 

Uproar surrounding Iran's restriction escalated in September when an Iranian women set herself on fire outside of a courthouse and ultimately died after learning she could be jailed for six months for sneaking into a match disguised as a man. Iran then lifted the ban on women following FIFA pressure, though there are no assurances the ban will not be reinstated.

A "few thousand" tickets were reserved for women on Thursday at the 78,000-seat Azadi stadium in Tehran, according to the New York Times' Tariq Panja. The seats are reportedly segregated, with "metal fencing erected around the sections reserved for women."

"This is a very positive step forward, and one which FIFA, and especially Iranian girls and women, have been eagerly waiting for," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement on Thursday. "The passion, joy and enthusiasm they showed today was remarkable to see and encourages us even more to continue the path we have started. History teaches us that progress comes in stages and this is just the beginning of a journey.

"Consequently, FIFA now looks more than ever towards a future when ALL girls and women wishing to attend football matches in IR Iran will be free to do so, and in a safe environment. There can be no stopping or turning back now.

"I would like to thank both the IR Iran FA, the AFC and the authorities involved for their efforts and cooperation. FIFA will continue to work closely with them, to help ensure that the right thing is done, which is to allow all fans, irrespective of gender, to have the chance to go to the stadiums and enjoy a game of football. Since I arrived at FIFA, we fight to see this objective fulfilled.

"But, above all, today I want to say a very big thank you and record our utmost respect to all of the Iranian girls and women who courageously stood and are standing up for their rights. FIFA fully supports them and will stand by them."

Amid the historic backdrop, Iran sprinted past Cambodia with a 14-0 victory. Two Iranian players tallied hat tricks, with forward Karim Ansarifard scoring four goals in the victory. 

Iran has qualified for three of the last four World Cups, exiting in the group stage in 2018 after finishing behind Spain and Portugal in their group.