Iranian Women, Allowed Into Stadium To Watch National Soccer Match, Pay Tribute To Female Fan Who Set Herself On Fire
Iranian Women, Allowed Into Stadium To Watch National Soccer Match, Pay Tribute To Female Fan Who Set Herself On Fire

Allowed to attend a national soccer match for the first time in decades, Iranian women used the occasion to pay tribute to a fan who set herself on fire to protest the authorities' ban on female spectators.

“Blue girl, blue girl,” chanted the dozens of women who attended the game at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on August 25, in reference to Sahar Khodayari.

Dubbed “Blue girl” for the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, the 29-year-old self-immolated in September 2019 outside a courthouse where she had been summoned after being arrested for trying to enter Azadi Stadium dressed as a man.

Her death caused outrage, intensifying pressure on the authorities to allow women into soccer stadiums. Since the incident, women have been permitted to attend several matches.

It was not clear how many women attended the August 25 game between Esteghlal and Mes-e Kerman at the 100,000-capacity stadium. State media reported that authorities had allocated 500 seats for women.

Photos published by Iranian new agencies showed female spectators holding a sign reading: “[Women] deserve more than this.”

The female fans who attended the game also expressed support for male Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafuri, who has been critical of state policies and has highlighted the hardships endured by ordinary Iranians.

“Voria, Voria,” the female spectators were heard chanting in amateur videos posted online.

Esteghlal welcomed the presence of women inside the stadium on its official Twitter account.

“We are happy that you are present at Azadi stadium today,” Estheghlal said in a tweet accompanied by a photo of female fans holding the team’s flag.

Estghlal’s head coach and players reportedly greeted and applauded the women inside the stadium.

Many Iranian social media users hailed the decision to allow women to attend the game while criticizing the authorities for banning female spectators in the past.

Activist Mohammad Karim Asayesh said on Twitter that the presence of 500 women at Azadi Stadium was “far from enough,” adding that Khodayari had broken the barrier.

Female Iranian reporter Hoda Hashemi said the name of Azadi Stadium finally reflects its meaning. Azadi means freedom in Persian.

Women have been barred from attending soccer matches since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Iran’s clerical establishment has long opposed the idea of women being allowed in stadiums with male fans.

But under pressure from soccer’s world governing body FIFA, Iranian authorities have allowed some women to attend games in recent years.

In September 2019, FIFA ordered Iran to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers to be determined according to demand for tickets.

In October 2019, Iranian authorities allowed about 4,000 women into Azadi Stadium for an international match against Cambodia, for the first time in decades.

The August 25 match was the first time women were allowed to attend a game between two teams from Iran's domestic championship.

In March, Iranian authorities blocked women from attending an international match against Lebanon. Reports suggested that police used pepper spray to prevent women from entering a stadium in the city of Mashhad, in a move that triggered widespread outrage.

The incident led calls by some for FIFA to take punitive measures against Iran. Hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi ordered an investigation.

Last week, Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that women were not banned from entering soccer stadiums, although he added that not all sports facilities were ready to host female spectators.

Women attending soccer matches are seated in specially designated areas away from male spectators.

“Whenever we can prepare stadiums for women’s presence, there’s no obstacle, but the condition is that the stadiums [must] be ready,” he was quoted as saying by state media.

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