Female fans banned from Iranian league games

The Iranian domestic league resumed on Sunday and Monday with women fans barred from entering stadiums up and down the country.

Over 3,000 female fans had been allowed into Tehran's Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10 to watch Iran play Cambodia but they were conspicuous by their absence when Persepolis defeated Paykan 2-1 at the same arena to move into sixth place.

With the death of Sahar Khodayari in September -- the 29-year-old fan of Persepolis rivals Esteghlal set herself on fire and died of her injuries after being arrested for entering the Azadi Stadium dressed as a man -- international pressure on Iran to lift the ban reached unprecedented levels.

According to Omid Memarian, Deputy Director of Center for Human Rights on Iran, the partial lifting of the ban, that had been in place since 1981, will continue when the national team play but the domestic league has some way to go.

"There has not been much news about women trying to go to leagues game today," Memarian told ESPN FC. "It means that the focus is very much on international games."

On the continued push for inclusion, a source close to the situation told ESPN FC: "This phrase 'one step in the right direction' is for politicians.

"As human rights advocates we believe freedom is a whole and until we achieve all of our goals we have work to do. We will put pressure from the inside and also on FIFA to not forget women are still banned."

Activists in the country dispute the claims made by authorities that stadiums nationwide are not yet set up to cater for separate seating sections, insisting that the problem is one of attitudes.

The presence of women watching the national team could then make a difference in the long term.

"By attending stadiums in games that receive a lot of international attention, women normalise practicing their basic rights and pave the way for their attendance in every game in the future," Memarian added.

"Iranian women and those activists who have been pushing for going to stadiums look at this as a long struggle that should be dealt with patience and persistence."

The Cambodia experiment was a major success. Not only did the women sing and support the team for the whole 90 minutes, Iran ran out 14-0 winners.

"Iranian women had the support of the whole world behind them and also the support of FIFA," Memarian said. "That makes it very difficult for the Iranian government to again ban them for going to stadiums.

"So their step by step move towards removing the ban as a whole, and continuation of their advocacy on this topic both domestically and internationally, will make it very costly for the government to reverse this new policy."

Iran resumes World Cup qualification at home on March 26 against Hong Kong.