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Legal Matters

Tehran Allows Women At World Cup Public Screenings

Women and men have cheered together in at least one Tehran stadium during the public-screening of Iran's World Cup soccer match with Spain after a local council reversed long-standing policy and allowed women to attend sporting events with men in public places.

The Tehran provincial council on June 20 ruled that the city's Azadi and Takhti stadiums would open their gates to women to view televised broadcasts of the national team's match against powerhouse Spain in the Russian city of Kazan.

Despite the cheering, Iran lost to heavily favored Spain 1-0 in the match, the team's second at the 2018 World Cup.

Women were allowed to watch the screenings from the stadiums' family sections, according to the ruling. The ban on public viewings by women was also lifted in parks and other public facilities for the match.

The Iranian OpenStadiums group posted photos on Twitter described as men and women cheering at Adazi Stadium during the Iran-Spain match.

"Women/families finally entered Azadi stadium after 37 years of ban" to watch the match on large-screen TVs, the group wrote.

Iranian news agency ISNA reported that the permit was only valid for public viewings of the June 20 match, although activists said they hoped it would lead to a general lifting of the ban on women attending sporting events with men.

"If all goes well, this could be a prelude to the general lifting of the women's stadium ban," Tayebeh Siavoshi, a female lawmaker and women's rights activist, told ISNA.

"Once spectators have shown their respect for the rules, we hope it will be possible to screen the Iran-Portugal game in the same stadium [on June 25] and that will mark the start of families attending matches played at the Azadi," she added.

Excitement over the World Cup has grown in the aftermath of Iran's 1-0 victory over Morocco in St. Petersburg on June 15. Spain played Portugal to a 3-3 draw in its opener in Sochi, leaving open the possibility that the Iranian squad could advance to the round of 16.

Iran's victory over Morocco was also scheduled to be shown live in stadiums and parks in Iran, but authorities canceled all screenings at the last minute without giving a reason.

During the first half of that match in St. Petersburg, Iranian women's activist Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei and other fans unfurled a banner protesting Iran's policies blocking women from attending soccer matches back home.

The banner read "#NoBan4Women" and "Support Iranian women to attend stadiums."

It was taken down for an unknown reason after a brief commotion as three members of the stadium staff moved to where the banner was being held. It was lifted again during the second half.

At the June 20 match in Kazan, Shojaei said a banner she was planning to display in the stadium was taken from her and she was blocked from entering for two hours.

"When I was trying to get in with my banner, security told me I can't take it in," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I showed them my approval. They searched me and held me two hours and took the banner," she added.

FIFA and Russian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on her remarks.

At home, Iranian authorities have been receiving increasing criticism for policies that ban female spectators from entering stadiums for men's sporting events.

Police often lock up offenders who try to ignore the prohibition -- drawing criticism from international sports bodies and rights groups.

Many clerics in the conservative Muslim-majority country still oppose women attending soccer matches, saying they must be protected from the masculine environment.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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