Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian women have been barred from entering soccer stadiums. One woman, Sahar Khodayari, wanted nothing more than to attend a soccer game at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
In March 2019, Khodayari successfully entered Azadi Stadium. Once inside, however, she was arrested and put in jail for three days.
According to the BBC, after six months of awaiting her trial, Khodayari appeared in court to find the judge had a family emergency and would not be in attendance. The BBC reports that when Khodayari returned to the courthouse to retrieve her cellphone, she heard that if she were convicted, she would face a minimum sentence of six months or a maximum sentence of two years.
On Sept. 2, Khodayari set herself on fire in front of the courthouse. The New York Times reported that Khodayari died in the hospital from severe burns.
Following her death, the hashtag #BlueGirl began trending on Twitter, as Khodayari’s favorite soccer team was Esteghlal and their team color is blue. The hashtag was created not only to mourn Khodayari’s death but also to bring to light the oppressive conditions of women in Iran.
Iranian soccer teams have held moments of silence in honor of Khodayari. The New York Times reports that a former captain of Iran’s national soccer team and other Iranian activists are calling for a boycott of soccer games until the ban barring women from soccer stadiums is lifted.
Major Iranian soccer team holds a minute of silence in honor of their fan Sahar who died after setting herself alight after being charged over her attempt to enter a stadium to watch a spccer match. Iranian women have been banned from stadiums for the past 40 years #bluegirl https://t.co/sSXVRTXbEu
— Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) September 12, 2019
According to Reuters, the president of FIFA has urged Iran to allow Iranian and foreign women to purchase tickets and attend soccer events.
Iran is currently set to hold a World Cup qualifying game on Oct. 10. FIFA officials are set to meet with Iranian officials in the upcoming two weeks to discuss the logistics of the game. However, there has been no confirmation that FIFA officials will discuss Khodayari’s death.
FIFA’s lack of action has evoked outcry from activists on social media. Twitter users have created the hashtag #FifaStandUp4Sahar, directly calling on FIFA to punish Iran for its ban on women in soccer stadiums.
The New York Times reported that Iranian officials are not willing to let women in, as structural changes would be necessary in order for them to attend games. The changes necessary would include a special section just for women.
As the World Cup game approaches, everyone’s eyes will be on FIFA and the standards it enforces on Iran. A strong stance against the Iranian regime could set a new standard for true feminism across the international stage, prompting women’s rights to be a precursor to a country’s ability to host an international soccer game.