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Women are disguising themselves as men to watch football matches in Iran

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Moya Crockett
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There is a de facto ban on women entering football stadiums in Iran – but some female sports fans have begun to push back. 

While there is no law against women attending sporting events in Iran, football matches are almost always exclusively male places. Women have been refused entry to sports arenas since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and there are several recent examples of women being detained if they try to enter a football stadium.

However, some Iranian women have begun going to extreme lengths to watch their favourite teams. Last week, a group of women disguised themselves as men – using wigs, hats and fake facial hair – in order to watch a match at the Azadi stadium in Tehran.

Photos of the women began doing the rounds on British and Iranian social media and have since been verified by the BBC. They show the women in the stands at a game on Friday 27 April between teams Persepolis and Sepidrood. 

One of the women pictured told Iranian newspaper Iran that it was the third time she’d dressed as a man to gain access to a football match, and that she’d only been stopped once by security.

She said she used online beauty tutorials to learn how to apply a fake beard and bulk out her eyebrows using make-up, and recommended that other women use the same strategy.

“I Google for different make-up [tutorials] and learn new ways and apply them to go to the stadium,” she said.

Asked if she was afraid of being arrested, she replied: “Why should I be scared? We women do not commit any crimes by going to stadiums. The law has not defined women’s presence at stadiums as a crime.

“They have, of course, detained a few women and they have given a written promise not to go back there again.” 

A second woman told newspaper Khabar Varzeshi that they had been accompanied to the match by some male friends, and avoided the scrutiny of security guards by entering the stadium in a group. Once they were in the arena, some male football fans realised they were women.

“We went through the first and second gates in a group, and no one figured it out. But once we sat in the stands, everyone realised,” she said.

However, they didn’t encounter any problems, she said: in fact, quite the opposite.

“They came over and took selfies with us, praising us for going. Another interesting thing is all of those who knew we were women did not shout anything rude throughout the match.”

She continued: “Our goal is to keep going until they allow all women to go.

“We are doing this to say to the authorities that if they don’t let us in, we will keep going nonetheless, with or without beards.” 

Syrian women celebrate after Syria’s World Cup qualifying match against Iran in 2017. Syrian women were allowed to watch the match, while Iranian women were denied entry to the stadium 

This is the latest example of women pushing back against the de facto ban on attending male football matches in Iran. In May 2016, a woman filmed herself at a football match in Tehran, having dressed up as a man in order to sneak into the stadium.

Last autumn, Iranian women gathered outside Azadi stadium – the same stadium that women sneaked into last week – in protest after they were refused entry to watch Iran’s World Cup qualifying match against Syria, despite having pre-booked tickets. Syrian women, in contrast, were allowed to enter. 

In March this year, 35 women were detained by the Iranian authorities for trying to attend a football match at Azadi stadium. The Iranian government said that the women were only held temporarily, and were released once the match was over.

Interior ministry spokesman Seyyed Salman Samami said the women were not arrested, but instead transferred to a “proper place” by police. He did not elaborate on what constitutes a “proper place” for women.

Gianni Infantino, the head of international footballing federation FIFA, was in Azadi stadium watching the match when the women were detained. When asked about Iran’s ban on women attending football matches, he said he had received assurances from the Iranian president that women would “soon” be allowed into sports stadiums in the country.

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who push for change and make a difference. See more from Visible Women here.

Main image: Other images: Getty Images