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'Freedom' For A Day: Women In Stands Score Big Sporting Victory In Iran

A woman holds a banner reading "Let Iranian women enter their stadiums" during a volleyball match between Russia and Iran in Rio de Janeiro on August 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

"Opening doors to women."

"Women's three-pointer."

"Women have rights."

These are just a small sample of the jubilant reactions in Iran after women were allowed to attend a major men's sporting event in the capital, Tehran, for the first time in years.

Scores of female fans flocked to Tehran's Azadi Sports Complex to attend the first round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian qualifier between Iran and Iraq, a game won by the hosts, 83 to 53.

But the real winners were in the stands, as Iranian authorities loosened their stance against women attending men's sporting events.

In recent years, the country's long-standing position of banning Iranian women from attending soccer matches was expanded to other popular sports, including basketball and volleyball, leading to criticism at home and abroad and threatening Iran's ability to host major events.

The Iranian daily Arman published photos of the female spectators under the headline "Opening Azadi's Doors To Women," a wordplay on "azadi," which means "freedom" in Persian and is also the name of the basketball stadium.

The Hamshahri daily, owned by Tehran's municipality, published a photo of a group of women watching the basketball game under the headline "Back To Azadi."

Sports daily Iran Varzeshi described the development as a "women's three-pointer," describing the national basketball team's victory as a "double win."

The Hamdeli daily went so far as to speculate that women might now be allowed to attend all sporting events.

Some women claiming to be at the game uploaded photos from the stadium on social media.

One Twitter user wrote, "There's 30 minutes left before the basketball match between Iran and Iraq, but the area for women in the indoor stadium is already full."

Another Twitter user at the game uploaded a photo with the caption: "The stadium is officially full of women."

The recent match came amid persistent calls for Iran to lift its ban on women attending major men's sporting events.

The authorities have at times loosened the rules by allowing a restricted number of women to attend events, including during a volleyball tournament in February 2017 on Kish Island, known as an oasis of luxury and relative freedom in the otherwise conservative Islamic republic.

Iranian authorities had said the ban was needed to "protect" women and Islamic norms. The atmosphere in sports stadiums, it has argued, is inappropriate for Iranian women because of the revealing nature of the athletes' uniforms and due to the prevalence of crude language at the events.

This apparently did not apply to foreign women, who were allowed to attend such events in Iran.

Women's rights activists, meanwhile, argued that the ban was an example of gender discrimination in the Islamic republic, where women are expected to maintain a strict dress code and contact between members of the opposite sex outside of close family or marriage are discouraged.

Women have sometimes resisted the ban and entered stadiums disguised as men.

In past years, a limited number of Iranian women have been allowed entry to large sporting events by way of special invitations. Many Iranian women have gone to great lengths to attend sporting events abroad in order to cheer for their national teams.