#BlueGirl: Iranian Football Fan Dies After Self-Immolation 1

Sahar Khodayari, 29, has died as a result of burns after setting herself on fire outside a courtroom last Monday in Tehran. Sahar had appeared in court for disguising herself as a man and attempting to sneak into a match between the Iranian national men’s football team, Esteghlal, and the United Arab Emirates team for the AFC Champions League in March. In Iran, women are banned from attending men’s football games, and this rule is “ruthlessly enforced” according to Human Rights Watch, despite it not being a written law. So Khodayari was charged with “appearing in public without a hijab” to justify the arrest and detainment. After her hearing, Khodayari poured petrol on herself and set herself on fire outside the courtroom, dying from severe burns covering 90% of her body, reports Fars, Iran’s news agency.

At the time of her arrest in March, Khodayari was detained over a period of 3 days in Iran’s Shahr-e Rey women’s prison, a disused chicken farm housing hundreds of women in unhygienic and crowded conditions. Khodayari’s sister said she suffered from bipolar disorder, and this internment had a catastrophic effect on her mental health. At her hearing, she was told she may be in jail for 6 months, reports Human Rights Watch.

Iranian social media has called Khodayari ‘Blue Girl’, named for the blue jersey of her favourite football team, Esteghlal. The team held a moment of silence to honour her, Metro UK reports. Many have shared similar sentiments under the hashtag #Blue Girl: French football player Paul Pogba tweeted, “Strength and prayers to family and friends of #bluegirl #SaharKhodayari,” and Italian football club AS Roma changed its logo from yellow and red to yellow and blue to honour her memory.

Philip Luther, of Amnesty International, has condemned this horrific injustice, stating: “Amnesty International believes that Sahar Khodayari would still be alive if it were not for this draconian ban and the subsequent trauma of her arrest… Her death must not be in vain. It must spur change in Iran if further tragedies are to be avoided in the future.”

Unfortunately, this is just another terrible example of the gross abuse of women’s rights in Iran, and the trauma that it causes. Women have been banned from men’s football games since the 1980s, another aspect of inequality that is archaic in this day and age. It is ironic that the stadium she was trying to sneak into is called “Azadi” which means ‘freedom’ in Farsi. Iran’s treatment of female football fans has long been a contentious issue, with many calling on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to ban Iran from any international competitions. This would be an appropriate way to condemn the Iranian government for this ‘law’, as it is punishment as well as a non-violent way to resolve an issue that has caused violence and trauma for the women who love football in Iran. However, this will have to be done in a comprehensive and genuine way on FIFA’s part to be effective. Hopefully, if FIFA follows through on these calls to ban Iran for future competitions, further tragedy such as this can be avoided.