Football is the beautiful game, a sport adored by millions from all over the world. The joyous thing about football is that it doesn’t try to discriminate, with the sport providing an outlet for all. 

There are still significant barriers that block people’s access to this fantastic game, but this month one of those barriers was removed.

Iran became the first side in the Asian region to qualify for Qatar 2022 as they secured their place in the finals with a 1-0 win over neighbors Iraq. The game was held in Tehran with a crowd of 10,000, but most notably, 2,000 of these spectators were women, marking one of the first times since 1979 that women have been legally permitted inside a sporting stadium in Iran.

The event has been hailed as a significant step in the advancement of women’s rights in Iran, but it remains to be seen as to whether women will be permanently permitted to watch the national side.

Despite women being permitted inside the stadium, the authorities still had segregation measures in place. Women had to enter the stadium via a designated entrance and were sat in their own section in the stadium. However, even these measures couldn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, with one female supporter stating: “I am very happy. This is the first time I have attended a match at the Azadi Stadium, it should have happened earlier, but I am very happy and I hope that this will continue.”

On the pitch, Iran have quietly been going about their business and are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The national side ended 2021 ranked as the 21st best side in the world and the number one side in Asia. Some of Iran’s better players ply their trade in the top leagues in the world. Star striker Mehdi Taremi plays for Portuguese giants Porto, while Alireza Jahanbakhsh plays for Dutch side Feyenoord.

While Iran continue their progress on the pitch, the world and football’s governing bodies will be hoping that the country’s progress off the field continues to grow at the same pace.