For nearly 40 years, Iranian women have been banned from watching stadium football matches. The photographer Forough Alaei, a World Press Photo winner in the sports category for her Crying for Freedom series, describes following the story of Zeinab, one of the first women to disguise herself as a man to watch matches
It takes Zeinab about 15 hours to travel from Ahvaz to Tehran by train to watch Persepolis, her favourite football club. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, women have been banned from attending stadium football matches. Despite the ban, female football fans have never given up and have tried different methods to enter stadiums, including disguising themselves as men.
Zeinab at home in Ahvaz, Iran, with pictures of times she tried to get into matches and take photos with her favourite players.
Zeinab plays football for fun every weekend. Her dream, probably unobtainable in Iran, is to become a coach.
It takes around 15 hours for Zeinab to travel to Tehran by train to watch her favourite team, Persepolis.
A few hundred female fans were allowed into the Azadi stadium, in Tehran, to watch a match in 2018 – the first time it had happened on that scale in about 40 years.
Persepolis FC misses an opportunity in a counterattack during the ACL final against Japan’s Kashima Antlers, in Tehran.
Zeinab cries with happiness when she finally enters Azadi stadium, in Tehran, Iran. She was one of a few hundred women who were allowed to watch the match and had to wait two hours to go through the gates.
Two female fans of Persepolis football club waited more than five hours to enter the Azadi stadium, in Tehran, Iran.
Zeinab bandages her body to disguise herself as a man before entering a stadium.
Zeinab applies a wig and facial hair as part of her disguise.
As a female photographer, I’m not permitted to take my camera to the stadium. Therefore, I had to pass myself off as a boy and use my iPhone to take this shot
After she entered the Azadi stadium in Tehran, Zeinab took selfies with male football fans who have since become friends.
Zeinab takes a selfie with a Perspolis football player in a hotel in Tehran. She had gone to the stadium disguised as a man.
I was so nervous; every moment we might get arrested by the police. Zeinab was calmer than me because she had more experience and had been arrested four times before that day, but it was my first time
Female guards in the segregated female section of the Azadi stadium, in Tehran, during the final match of the AFC Champions League between Iran’s Perspolis and Japan’s Kashima Antlers.
A woman smokes to relieve her stress during the final of the AFC Champions League between Iran’s Perspolis and Japan’s Kashima Antlers in Tehran.
Receiving the Wold Press Photo award is a unique honour. I am glad to get a chance to be a part of the conversation made by some of the most talented photographers on challenges we face nowadays
Iranian women are kept separate from men in different stands at Tehran’s Azadi stadium.
Zeinab at the train station on her way to Tehran to watch a match.