The football terraces can be a hostile place, especially for women. Even in the UK, which can claim to have a relatively modern society, football is still not particularly welcoming.
Over the years, as women’s football has grown and more women have become involved in the sport, attitudes have slowly improved.
Around 7.7 million women identify as football fans in the UK, according to data company Kantar. Nearly all of those women would also be able to attend a match, if they wanted to.
In many countries, women’s passion for football is far greater than it is in Britain. What is troubling, is fans being prevented from attending a match because of their gender.
In Iran, this is exactly the case. The country boasts a brilliant footballing rivalry, the Tehran derby between Esteqlal and Persepolis, and a well supported national team but women are still technically excluded from the live sports experience.
The country’s national team have qualified for their fifth World Cup and head to Russia having not featured in the tournament since 1998. The country is brimming with anticipation and excitement.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran has had strict and conservative rules for women. These include the compulsory wearing of a headscarf, the banning of riding bikes in public, albeit many still do, and the prevention of women from attending sports events involving the opposite gender.
The gender gap is so harsh that the World Economic Forum ranked the country as 140 out of 144 for gender parity in its global gender report in 2017.
Despite the constraints, plenty of women still sneak in to events. However, attempts haven’t gone unpunished and in 2014 Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian activist, was detained after attempting to watch a men’s volleyball match.
In March this year, 35 women were held for trying to get into a football game.
The fightback went viral earlier this year when a group of women dressed up in wigs and beards to try and see Persepolis play rivals Sepidrood.
Images of the women were shared by thousands on the internet and their action brought much needed attention to the struggle for women to watch their favourite sport.
In an interview with an Iranian newspaper, one of the women explained the lengths she goes to to sneak in, saying: “I Google for different make-up [tutorials] and learn new ways and apply them to go to the stadium.”
The same woman showed defiance when asked if she was scared of being arrested for her actions, she responded: “Why should I be scared? We women do not commit any crimes by going to stadiums. The law has not defined women’s presence at stadiums as a crime. They have, of course, detained a few women and they have given a written promise not to go back there again.”
Another of the women told sports newspaper Khabar Varzeshi that the men at the game had supported their efforts, saying: “They came over and took selfies with us, praising us for going. Another interesting thing is all of those who knew we were women did not shout anything rude throughout the match.”
The Iranian authorities have shown an interest in loosening the rules and, in February, women were allowed to attend a basketball match between Iran and Iraq – although they had to sit in a separate area.
Several Iranian leaders have tried to challlenge the restrictions but efforts have been thwarted by conservative politicians and clerics.
Special permissions have also been granted for some female politicians in the country but many have rejected the invitations as the vast majority are still prevented from going.
As the governing body for world football, Fifa could intervene on the issue as its core principal is to “bring the game to all”, but the organisation’s lack of moral authority isn’t a great mystery.
Gianni Infantino, Fifa’s president, has tried to influence Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and told reporters in March that he had been “promised that women in Iran” would have access to “football stadiums soon”.
Infantino added that Rouhani had informed him that “in countries such as Iran these things take a bit of time”.
For the women in Iran that want to go to football matches, change couldn’t come soon enough.
Feature written by Flo Lloyd-Hughes @FloydTweet