Iran fans unfurl banner at World Cup in support of women attending soccer matches

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Iranian fans at the national team’s first match at the World Cup unfurled a banner protesting Iran’s ban on women attending soccer matches back home.

The banner read “#NoBan4Women” and “Support Iranian Women to Attend Stadiums” and it was held aloft during the match against Morocco in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on Friday.

After it was initially unfurled, during the first half of the game, there was a brief commotion as it was put away.

The reason for the commotion wasn’t immediately clear as three stewards moved across to where the banner was, on the bottom row near to one of the goals.

It then remained unfurled for the remainder of the first half. Then, in the second half, the banner moved up the field near the other goal.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian women have been banned from attending soccer matches and other male-only sporting events.

A partial exception to the ban on women was made in June 2015 when a small number were allowed to watch volleyball in Tehran.

The decision came following public outcry a year earlier, after British-Iranian student Ghoncheh Ghavami was detained while trying to attend a men’s volleyball match at Azadi.

She spent more than 100 days in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sajedeh Norouzi waved a small Iranian flag during an Olympic volleyball match — her first time in a sports stadium.

Before Friday evening’s match, fans from Iran and Morocco mingled on the streets of St. Petersburg, wearing their countries’ flags, blowing whistles and chanting songs without any animosity.

Enthusiastic Iranian women were among them. That contrasted with the one of the main squares in Tehran, where a billboard portrays fans celebrating and holding aloft the World Cup, accompanied by the slogan “One nation, one heartbeat.”

There were no women on it. Some fans were keen to express themselves as they arrived at the imposing St. Petersburg Stadium.

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