Fans cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS
Fans cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS

Tehran : For many of the thousands of joyful women packed into Tehran’s largest football stadium, their first ever chance to watch a game at a sports arena was a victory for freedom despite Iran’s agonising World Cup elimination.

Cheering and with their cheeks painted with the national colours, women showed they were just as caught up in the World Cup fever sweeping the country as they seized the opportunity to attend a live screening at the 100,000 capacity Azadi Stadium, which, like other sports arenas, has been off-limits to them since the the Islamic revolution of 1979.

While the exuberance turned to tears when Iran missed the chance to snatch a last gasp winner against Portugal, ending their tournament dreams, some in the mixed gender stands said they would still treasure the landmark night watching an open-air screening of the national team.

The decision to throw open the gates of the iconic stadium came after Iran’s opening victory over Morocco, when tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital in rare and wild celebration, many of them women.

Many Iranian clerics oppose women attending football matches, saying they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere, though the ruling is frequently criticised from across the political spectrum.

New freedoms

 The vacillation by Iranian authorities over whether mixed spectators would be allowed to attend open-air screenings of the country’s World Cup bid shows their deep sensitivity over women’s rights. Iran’s opening game had initially been due to be shown live in stadiums and parks but authorities cancelled all open-air screenings just hours before kick-off forcing fans to watch in cinemas. After the game, fans both female and male celebrated in the streets into the early hours, undaunted by Iran’s elimination.

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