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How football fan Sahar Khodayari’s self-immolation shed light on stadium ban for women

Sahar Khodayari (right) self-immolated outside a court in Tehran on September 2, 2022 and Iranian fans during the FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar on November 21, 2022. Twitter/@AlinejadMasih, AP

On September 9, 2019, 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari died of burns a week after setting herself on fire outside an Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, the Iranian capital.

Shortly before the self-immolation, the court told Khodayari she could be sentenced to six months in prison.

His offence? She attended the game of her favorite local football club Esteghlal FC.

Iran bans women from attending men’s football matches.

Disguised as a man, Khodayari had entered Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch the March 2019 game but was caught by security guards and arrested. Khodayari who has become a symbol of protest in her country has been nicknamed the “blue girl” after the colors of her Esteghlal FC.

Her self-immolation and death sparked outrage both at home and abroad, with FIFA mounting pressure on Iran to allow women into stadiums.

“We have learned very sad news from Iran and deeply regret this tragedy. FIFA extends its condolences to Sahar’s family and friends. We reiterate our calls on the Iranian authorities to guarantee the freedom and safety of all women engaged in the legitimate struggle to end the stadium ban,” FIFA tweeted.

Popular football club Barcelona said it was truly sorry to hear of Khodayari’s death and that “football is a game for everyone – men AND women, and everyone should be able to enjoy the beautiful game together. in stadiums.

Under pressure from FIFA, Iran allowed more than 2,000 female spectators to watch the Iranian national football team defeat Iraq in the World Cup qualifiers in Tehran.

However, in March 2022, it was reported that women were barred from attending the Iran-Lebanon WC qualifiers in Tehran.

To date, Iran has not lifted the stadium ban for women.

The ongoing FIFA World Cup coincides with nationwide protests in Iran that began following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after being arrested by vice police.

On November 22, in their opening game against England, Iran’s soccer team refused to sing their country’s national anthem in an apparent show of support for the protests.

Although the gesture was hailed around the world, not all fans were impressed. Protesters and activists had earlier criticized the football team for posing with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi before leaving for the World Cup.

Many Iranian fans are divided on whether to support their team or not.

“The protest movement has eclipsed football. I want Iran to lose these three games,” PA quoted Kamran, a professor of linguistics.

As for the Iranian players, some of them spoke out in favor of the protests on social media.

One of them, Sardar Azmoun, a star player, was on the bench during the game.

Earlier, Iranian authorities arrested former Persepolis FC player Hossein Maahini for supporting the protests.

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