Tehran, Iran – An Iranian female football fan, who was detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a football stadium, has died a week after setting herself on fire.
Sahar Khodayari self-immolated in front of a court in Tehran last week after she found out she could face a two-year sentence for attempting to enter the Azadi Stadium to watch her team play.
Khodayari was rushed to a local hospital with severe burns on 90 percent of her body and damage to her lungs. She was confirmed dead on Monday night.
The 29-year-old was arrested in March while attempting to enter the iconic stadium named Azadi (Freedom in Farsi) to watch Esteghlal FC face UAE’s Al Ain in an AFC Champions League match.
Since there are no written laws barring women from entering stadiums, she was sentenced for not fully adhering to Islamic hijab laws and covering her head.
Her family posted bail a day later but since the incident happened on the weekend, she had to spend three more days in jail.
Her family said the experience deteriorated Khodayari’s mental health as she had a history of battling bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide before.
Khodayari was dubbed “blue girl” by Iranians on social media for the blue colour of her team’s jersey.
Following the incident, thousands expressed outrage over a persisting stadium entry ban for women.
“One day, one of the capital city’s largest stadiums will be called blue girl,” journalist Mohammad Mosaed wrote on Twitter. “A day when even if we are not around, our grandchildren will remember what a difficult path we went through to achieve our most basic human rights.”
Romina, a 32-year-old football fan who asked not to be fully identified, said Khodayari’s case was an extreme one and she could empathise with what drove her to taking her life.
“This is extremely frustrating,” she told Al Jazeera. “Maybe I would do the same, or at least think about doing it, if I loved something so much and I was told loving it would entail severe repercussions like going to jail that would impact the rest of my life”.
— Foruq Canaani (@FCanaani) September 10, 2019
An Iranian Twitter user wrote: “Why can a 9-year-old girl get married but a girl in her 20s can’t go to the stadium?” in reference to a recent high-profile case involving a child marriage that was annulled after massive public backlash.
Several football clubs, including Esteghlal, also sent in their condolences to the family of the deceased football fan.
Iranian football legend Ali Karimi joined a chorus demanding the public to boycott all stadiums until the government allows women to enter.
Italian club AS Roma posted its logo in blue and yellow – changed from its traditional colours of yellow and red – on its Persian Twitter account in solidarity with Khodayari.
Meanwhile, Farhad Majidi, former Esteghlal stalwart-turned-head-coach of the Iran national under-23 team, published a picture of an empty Azadi stadium, writing, “Dear Sahar, Azadi’s stands will forever yearn to see you”.
Iranian women have been prohibited from entering stadiums since the early 1980s.
Despite years-long efforts, including an ultimatum that Iran would be banned from FIFA which expired in July, the world football governing body has failed to compel Iran to allow them in.
Currently, Iran only allows women to enter select national football games. This is despite the fact that last year President Hassan Rouhani promised Gianni Infantino, FIFA president, during a Tehran visit that women would soon be granted full entry into stadiums.
In their online reactions, angry and frustrated Iranians tagged and mentioned FIFA for continuously failing to open stadiums to Iranian women.
“Infantino has not applied FIFA human rights policy to stop these abuses. It was predictable decades of women protesting Iran’s stadium ban could end in catastrophe,” tweeted Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
FIFA statutes address non-discrimination, equality and neutrality, stating that discrimination of any kind against, among other things, gender “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion”.
“We are aware of that tragedy and deeply regret it,” a FIFA statement said.
“FIFA convey our condolences to the family and friends of Sahar and reiterate our calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women in Iran,” it added.
Shame on you FIFA. You should have banned Iran's football federation because of gender segregation before Sahar tried to enter a stadium#FifaStandUp4Sahar
— Faranak Hariri (@FaHariri) September 10, 2019
In a series of tweets, President Rouhani’s deputy for women affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar described her efforts to follow up on Khodayari’s case, saying the issue of allowing women to enter stadiums is being reviewed by the government and the judiciary.
But a deep distrust in the government and the ruling establishment means that many Iranians do not think that even the painful death of a young woman could shake the country’s decision makers.
“Some officials say all the nice words when the going gets tough, but we’ve all seen worse and it hasn’t always led to positive change,” a 30-year-old football fan told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
Iran's #BlueGirl, who set herself on fire after she was arrested for trying to enter a football stadium, has died. Iran is the only country in the world that bans & punishes women for seeking to enter stadiums. We call for this discriminatory ban to end. https://t.co/CNrmRIIjKk
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 10, 2019