Iranian women attend soccer game for first time in nearly 40 years.

Iranian women, wearing jester hats and face paint, blew horns and cheered Thursday at the first FIFA soccer match they've been allowed to freely attend in nearly 40 years.

In what many considered a victory in a decadeslong fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country's flag and watched with excitement as Iran beat Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran's Azadi 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, up to this point, has only known soccer games from television. "At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this."

Iranian women cheer during a soccer match between their national team and Cambodia in the 2022 World Cup qualifier at the Azadi (Freedom) Stadium in Tehran, Iran, on Thursday. (AP)

But Iran's hard-line Islamic theocracy is still not willing to go as far some would like. Authorities announced they will allow women to attend only international soccer matches.

Hard-liners and traditional Shiite clerics, citing their interpretation of Islamic law, believe in segregating men and women at public happenings, as well as keeping women out of men's sporting events.

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 soccer matches.

Under pressure from FIFA, Iran let a carefully controlled number of women into the stadium, allocating 4,000 tickets in a 78,000-seat complex and arranging for 150 female security personnel to watch the female fans.

The women sat at least 600 feet from the few thousand men at the match.

Still, many hailed the sign of progress.

"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 public has grown since a 29-year-old Iranian woman self-immolated last month upon learning she would spend six months in prison for dressing up as a man to sneak into a match.


Sahar Khodayari, who became known as the "Blue Girl" for her love of the Iranian team Esteghlal -- its uniforms are blue -- shocked Iranian officials and the public.

After the match on Thursday, Pashaei said she hoped authorities would open up more games to women so she can attend with her family.


"The 'Blue Girl' and her stories did help. Of course, efforts by women activists and feminists were very effective," she said. "We are happy anyway and hope this will continue, not just in national team matches."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.