By Simon Evans
Oct 4 (Reuters) – Iranian women have snapped up tickets for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia in Tehran after they were released for sale via a website.
Iranian authorities had assured world governing body FIFA that women would be allowed to attend the game and have set aside sections of the stadium for women.
The semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA said the 3,500 tickets allocated for women sections sold out within minutes of going on sale on Friday morning.
FIFA told Reuters it had been informed a total of 4,600 tickets for women would be made available in the initial batches but that it expects more to be put on sale to meet the demand from female fans.
A spokesman for the organisation said FIFA would be sending a delegation to the Azadi Stadium in Tehran to monitor the access for women.
An activist with the group “Open Stadiums” which campaigns for Iranian women to be able to freely attend matches, said tickets for the game at the 78,000-capacity venue had gone on sale early on Friday morning and were sold via a website in small blocks.
The activist said the tickets went on sale without any announcement from the Iranian Football Federation and news of their availability only reached women via social media.
“It was quite a chaotic situation,” she told Reuters.
The group welcomed the sale but said it was concerned that women only sections stopped mothers taking their sons to matches and that it was also unclear how women with disabilities would be accommodated.
At Iran’s friendly against Syria in June, women were locked out of the Azadi Stadium and detained by security forces.
A female Iranian fan died last month after setting herself on fire to protest against her arrest for trying to enter a match.
Sahar Khodayari, dubbed “Blue Girl” for the colours of her favourite team Esteghlal, died in hospital after her self-immolation outside a court where she feared being jailed for six months after trying to attend the match disguised as a man.
Khodayari’s death caused widespread outrage in Iran and internationally, prompting calls on social media for Iran’s football federation to be suspended or banned by FIFA.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on FIFA to reject restrictions on how many women could attend.
“Iran’s ban on half the population attending football matches has led to women and girls risking arrest, jail, and even their lives to challenge it,” said Minky Worden, HRW’s director of global initiatives in a statement.
“Any concessions by FIFA to limit the number of women who can attend stadiums only empowers Iran’s hardliners who have … (kept) discriminatory restrictions in place,” Worden added.
FIFA sent officials to Tehran last month to discuss preparations for Thursday’s match including allowing access to women to the stadium.
While foreign women have been allowed limited access to matches, Iranian women have been banned from stadiums when men’s teams have been playing since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
There were signs the situation regarding female fans in Iran was changing when a group of women were permitted to attend the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in Tehran last November, a match attended by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
But female fans have been denied access to matches since.
FIFA says it wants Iranian authorities to allow women access not only to World Cup qualifiers but to all games in the country.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)