Iran’s ‘Blue Girl’ Dies for Watching Soccer, Blacklash Explodes
Sahar Khodayari loved watching soccer, and ended up paying for it with her life.
In Iran, entering sports arenas is a jailable offense for women. Rather than face the prospect of months in prison for having dared to assert such a small right, Khodayari set herself on fire.
There’s been an outpouring of grief and outrage on social media over the grisly death of this woman in her 20s who’s come to be known as the “blue girl,” a reference to the colors of Esteghlal F.C., the club she went to cheer in the capital, Tehran.
A photo purportedly showing her prone on a hospital bed, her wounds tightly bound in head-to-foot bandages like a mummy, has been widely shared on Instagram and Twitter. Kodayari, which is not her real name, media have reported, apparently slipped into the match covered up, a photo circulated on Twitter has suggested.
The incident has revived calls in some quarters to end the state’s restrictive policies toward women. Some of Iran’s most popular soccer players have called for a boycott of stadiums, and FIFA, the world soccer organization, demanded protection for women fighting to lift the stadium ban.
“She wasn’t just the ‘blue girl’. Sahar was the ‘Iran girl,’ where men decide the fate of women and can deprive them of their most basic human rights, and where there are women who are anti-women and who assist them in this blatant cruelty,” reformist lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri tweeted on Tuesday. “We are all responsible for the jailing and the self-immolation of all of the Sahars of this country.”
Soccer Ball Heart
Ali Karimi, a retired soccer player with 4.5 million followers on Instagram, shared a widely circulated meme of a female silhouette, her arms aloft and a soccer ball where her heart would be. A popular former Esteghlal player, midfielder Farhad Majidi, tweeted a photo of an Empty stadium with the caption, “Sahar, my dear, the stands at Azadi stadium will forever yearn to see you.”
So far the only government official to comment is the vice president of women’s and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, who wrote Tuesday on Telegram that she was assured that the government would take unspecified action.
“This is really the height of misery for a society, and exposes how, in the 21st century, a girl can set herself on fire for not being afforded the smallest of rights for any citizen, and not a single official seems to care,” one Twitter user in Iran lamented. “If this doesn’t stop, then it will be the future of an entire youth whose dreams and happiness have been trampled on.”
Most of the public outrage has been directed at Iranian authorities for failing to amend a law that could harm Iran’s standing within FIFA, the global body that organizes soccer’s World Cup. Hundreds of Twitter users have urged FIFA to penalize Iran, and the organization urged authorities “to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women.”
FIFA had set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to allow women to enter sports venues, but Iranian authorities have only promised to allow women to attend an Oct. 10 World Cup playoff, the semi-official Mehr news agency has reported.
When FIFA President Gianni Infantino last visited Tehran in November, he attended an Asian Champions League match, where hundreds of handpicked women were allowed entry and seated in a special “family section.”
But it was a one-off gesture, designed to placate the most powerful body in football, and authorities reinstated the ban after he left. Such gestures are not enough for those Iranians who want the conservative clergy to loosen its grip on social mores.
“Where else in the world is watching soccer a crime, its penalty death?” an Iranian asked on Twitter.