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Sorry, Iran. The World Cup is for women, too.

Iran soccer fans gather near Red Square in Moscow on Wednesday. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Yeganeh Rezaian is an Iranian journalist living in the United States.

Like so many people around the world, I am excitedly preparing for this year’s World Cup. But as an Iranian woman now living in America, I know this year will be different. It will be first time in my life that I’ll be able to enjoy the games freely, in public, wearing whatever I want with whomever I please. I’m going to celebrate this small victory by throwing a party at a bar. I will celebrate even if Iran loses.

I started watching soccer with my dad as a 5-year-old in Tehran. My first introduction to the World Cup was in 1994, when I was 10. The 15th FIFA World Cup was held in the United States.

Ironically, Iran’s state TV broadcast all the games live, even though they were being played on the “enemy’s” soil, in the heart of the “Great Satan.” It was exhilarating, but Iran’s national soccer team, known as Team Melli in Persian, wasn’t participating in the tournament that year. Back then, the state broadcaster didn’t have the sophisticated technology it uses now to censor hijab-less women among the fans. Soccer was the way we were able to enjoy a glimpse into America.

Perhaps you’re wondering why my dad didn’t just take my older sister and I to the stadium to watch a game in Tehran. But that’s not something we were ever allowed to do. Early in its rule, the Islamic republic banned women from attending men’s sports events, especially soccer, the most popular sport in the country. The punishment for defying the ban is arrest, imprisonment or fines.

Like so many of my fellow countrywomen, I grew up dreaming about going to stadiums to watch national matches, but instead had to settle with watching them at home. As a teenager, I even contemplated going to the stadium disguised as a boy.

I never executed my plan, but this act of hidden defiance has become more of a trend in recent years. I now know that many women of my generation quietly considered doing it. We are so proud of the girls today who are willing to openly take the risks that we wouldn’t, but they shouldn’t have to face any consequences


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