Iran's woman ban, FIFA in spotlight after female soccer fan dies from setting herself on fire

An Iranian woman arrested and detained for attending a soccer match in the country died this week after setting herself on fire once she discovered she could be jailed for the transgression, the Associated Press reported.

The death of 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari has fans all over the world putting pressure on FIFA to “enforce its own human rights rules” as Iran’s first home World Cup qualifying match looms next month.

Khodayari disguised herself as a man by wearing a blue wig for her team’s colors and a long overcoat, earning the name “Blue Girl” around social media, to attend Tehran’s Azadi Stadium and watch her favorite team, Esteghlal, play the United Arab Emirates team, Al Ain, in March.

Why doesn’t Iran allow women in stadiums?

Khodayari had to disguise herself as a man to watch her favorite team in person because women are forbidden from attending in Iran. They’re also forbidden to watch in public places, such as restaurants. Religious leaders argue it violates Muslim law promoting piety.

The ban has been in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was briefly rescinded in 2006, per the Washington Post. This past October, women were allowed to attend their national team’s friendly in a separate section of the stadium from men. Hundreds flocked to the stadium for their opportunity.

Other than that one instance, which political leaders made clear was a one-time event, women commonly disguise themselves as men to attend soccer as well as other sports such as volleyball, the second most popular sport in Iran.

Amnesty International told the AP as far as it’s aware, “Iran is the only country that stops and punishes women” for trying to get into soccer stadiums after Saudi Arabia eased out its rules recently.

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Iranian fans cheer during the AFC Asian Cup round of 16 soccer match between Iran and Oman at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
An Iranian fan cheers prior the AFC Asian Cup group D soccer match between Iran and Iraq at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Iranian fans cheers ahead of the AFC Asian Cup round of 16 soccer match between Iran and Oman at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
An Iranian fan cheers at the end of the AFC Asian Cup group D soccer match between Iran and Iraq at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Iranian fans hold a national flag before the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Iran and China at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Iranian fans hold national flag before the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Iranian fans cheer before the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Iranian fans cheer during the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
An Iranian fan reacts after his team lost the game against Japan, at the end of the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2015. Japan beat Iran 2-0. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
An Iranian fan reacts after his team lost the game against Japan, at the end of the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2015. Japan beat Iran 2-0. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
An Iranian fan reacts after her team lost the game against Japan, at the end of the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 28, 2015. Japan beat Iran 2-0. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
AL AIN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 28: A fan of Japan in fans of Iran during the AFC Asian Cup semi final match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on January 28, 2019 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
AL AIN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 28: Iranian fans looks on during the AFC Asian Cup semi final match between Iran and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on January 28, 2019 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images)
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‘Blue Girl’ reportedly worried about prison sentence

Khodayari was arrested and detained, spending three nights in jail, in March. The ban is not written into law, so she was charged “not fully adhering to Islamic hijab laws and covering her head,” Al Jazeera reported.

Per the AP, she returned to the court to retrieve a cell phone when she heard she could face time in prison for attending the game.

Via the Associated Press:

Khodayari died on Monday at a Tehran hospital after suffering burns across 90% of her body. She had been on a respirator since dousing herself with gasoline in front of Tehran's Ershad Courthouse on Sept. 2, according to the Iranian news website Rokna, which publishes in Iran with government permission.

She had just learned she could be tried by a Revolutionary Court in Iran and be put in prison for six months, her father told the website.

Her sister reportedly told Iranian media that she Khodayari was bi-polar and her father said she had stopped taking medication a year ago.

Pressure put on FIFA ahead of World Cup

Mindy Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, told the AP the fan’s death underscores ''the need for Iran to end its ban on women attending sports matches — and the urgency for regulating bodies like FIFA to enforce its own human rights rules.''

FIFA’s human rights policy, adopted in May 2017, specifies and strengthens the organization’s commitment to “respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”

Iran, the top-ranked team in Asia, hosts its first home World Cup qualifier against Cambodia on Oct. 10.

FIFA has been putting more pressure on Iran to allow women into stadiums since at least June, when Reuters reported on a letter sent by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

The organization is now feeling increasing pressure from fans around the world as #BlueGirl trends on social media platforms and users call for action.

Infantino asked for a timeline earlier this summer from the Iranian Football Federation detailing what steps it planned to take to “ensure that all Iranian and foreign women who wish to do so will be allowed to buy tickets and to attend the matches.”

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Ali Karimi played 127 matches for Iran and urged a boycott of stadiums on his Instagram.

Iranian-Armenian soccer player Andranik ''Ando'' Teymourian tweeted that a stadium should be named after Khodayari.

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