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An Emotional First For Some Iranian Women Allowed To Enter Soccer Stadium

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Fans of Thursday's soccer match between Iran and Cambodia were especially excited - dancing, waving flags and chanting for the home team. It was a historic match not on the field but in the stands.

(CHEERING)

PFEIFFER: For the first time in almost four decades, women were allowed to enter Tehran's Azadi Stadium to watch a men's national soccer team match. ABC producer Somayeh Malekian was covering the game. She says the women who were able to go were ecstatic.

SOMAYEH MALEKIAN: Everyone was shouting or blowing into their horns they had brought with themselves.

PFEIFFER: And some of them were overcome with emotion as they entered the stadium for the first time. That's according to Iranian journalist Maryam Papi.

MARYAM PAPI: When we went through the dark tunnel of the stadium and saw the huge green field, it was a great experience. Some of the girls - they just started crying when they saw the field.

PFEIFFER: Women had been prevented from entering stadiums in Iran since shortly after the Islamic Revolution. Female fans have tried getting around the restriction for years, sometimes dressing as men to sneak in. But it was only after the death last month of Sahar Khodayari that the ban was lifted. She was caught trying to enter a stadium disguised as a man and sentenced to six months in prison. To protest, she set herself on fire in front of the courthouse and died days later. Her death increased international pressure on Iran to end the ban.

MALEKIAN: It was very bitter victory without having her at the stadium. And everyone remembers her, I'm sure, in every single time that women will go to this stadium.

PFEIFFER: Somayeh Malekian says there's still room for improvement. On Thursday, women were allocated only 4,000 tickets, even though the stadium seats around 80,000 and was largely empty. Women were also separated from men, preventing many of them from sitting with their families. Still, Malekian thinks it's a step in the right direction.

MALEKIAN: Yes, it was a small success, maybe. But it was no way meaningless, not at all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.