Women with flags and face paint streamed into Tehran’s Azadi stadium on Wednesday despite fears police would stop them and initial worries the idea had been cancelled.
There is no law banning women from sports stadiums in the country, but in practice the religious establishment has long forbidden them from entry.
However, after calls from some moderate politicians for both women and men to be able to watch Iran’s 2018 World Cup games.
The decision was not made in time for last week’s match, which Iran won against Morocco 1-0, but after it was announced on Wednesday morning, women and families queued outside Azadi stadium – only to be confronted by security officials who said due to “infrastructure issues” the planned viewing had been cancelled.
Hundreds of the waiting families staged a sit-in and began chanting, saying they would not leave until they were allowed in. A last-minute intervention from interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli finally meant the gates opened about an hour before kick-off.
The game, broadcast from Kazan, was Iran’s second match. While they narrowly lost to Spain 1-0, the mood in the stadium was still jubilant.
Hundreds of thousands of social media posts showed women singing, waving flags and blowing horns as many enjoyed the first international football experience of their lives.
Earlier this year, five women disguised as men with beards and wigs managed to watch a football match in Azadi stadium, but in the past many have been arrested for trying to attend men’s sporting events.
“Women and men should be allowed to be happy together,” reformist MP Tayyebeh Siavashi tweeted, along with a photo of herself inside the stadium.
It is not clear whether women will be allowed to watch Iran’s next game on 25 June, or whether the rules will be relaxed for other sports tournaments.