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Brief joy for Iran female football fans quickly extinguished

Iranians celebrate after their national football team won a 2018 World Cup qualifying match with Uzbekistan. Women have been barred from attending football matches, and some other sporting events such as wrestling, since the 1979 Islamic revolution © AFP / STRINGER

TEHRAN, Iran, Sep 4 – For a brief moment, Iran’s female football fans thought they were finally allowed to attend a match, but their hopes were dashed on Monday when authorities said their tickets were sold by mistake.

Women have been barred from attending football matches, and some other sporting events such as wrestling, since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with officials saying they must be protected from the vulgar atmosphere.

But when seats for Tuesday’s qualifying match against Syria at Tehran’s Azadi stadium went on sale on Saturday, many were shocked to see an option for women’s tickets on the website.

Some shared their surprise and joy on Twitter with a Farsi hashtag meaning “I_have_ticket”.

“I was extremely excited… it was unbelievable,” football fan Arefeh Elyasi told the reformist Shahrvand newspaper on Monday.

Another woman, Zahra Jafarzadeh, said she bought a ticket even though she does not really like football.

“I felt that if didn’t sign up, I would be missing a major event,” she told the newspaper.

Having never been inside the stadium, some worried about which seat to choose.

“My friend’s mother told me to get a seat where the ball wouldn’t hit my head,” said Negin Bagheri.

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But it did not take long for reality to reimpose itself, as Iran’s football federation said it was all a mistake.

“There is no plan to allow the presence of women in Azadi stadium for the Iran-Syria match,” it said in a statement, blaming a “technical glitch”.

Tickets held by women would all be cancelled and refunded, it said.

“Maybe we all knew that we would not be allowed to enter the stadium despite buying the ticket,” Elyasi said.

“But we wanted to make our voice heard by the officials.”

Iran was among the first teams to qualify for the 2018 world cup finals in Russia, and celebrations are planned for after the Syria game.

Women are allowed to watch some sports, though the rules can change with little warning.

There was shock in 2014 when women were suddenly banned from volleyball matches without explanation, although they have since been allowed to return to some events in segregated seats.

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