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World ‘Blue Girl’ wanted to watch a soccer match in Iran. She paid with her life

Sahar Khodayari was accused of sneaking into Azadi Stadium, Tehran’s main sporting venue, in March to watch her favorite team, Esteghlal, play against a team from the United Arab Emirates.

The Associated Press

Her dream was to watch a soccer match from a stadium in Iran, where women are banned from attending most sports events.

For this simple dream, she paid with her life.

Sahar Khodayari, 29, died in a hospital in Tehran this week from severe burns that covered 90 per cent of her body. She had set herself on fire in front of a courthouse on Sept. 2 after being sentenced to six months in prison.

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Her crime was sneaking into Azadi Stadium, Tehran’s main sporting venue, in March to watch her favorite team, Esteghlal, play against a team from the United Arab Emirates.

Khodayari was arrested and spent three nights in jail. Her mobile phone was seized. She was released on bail and told to report to Revolutionary Court in September.

Blue is the colour of the Esteghlal team, and as news spread that one of its female fans had set herself on fire, Khodayari became known on social media as the “Blue Girl.” The hashtag #BlueGirl sprung up, bringing attention to the plight of female soccer fans.

In death, Khodayari’s name has become an international rallying cry for Iran to end its discrimination against women and allow them entrance to sports events.

Many Iranians, including a former captain of the national team, are calling for a boycott of soccer games until the ban on women attending matches is lifted. Several officials expressed shock and outrage at what happened to Khodayari.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, President Hassan Rouhani’s vice-president for women and family affairs — the highest ranking woman in the Iranian government — issued a statement expressing “deep regret and sadness” for Khodayari’s death. She said her office had appointed a representative to follow the case.

Ebtekar said a written report on the case had been submitted to the judiciary on Saturday, and the topic of allowing women in stadiums was discussed in a Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

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FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, has warned to Iran to lift the ban on women attending international soccer matches by Oct. 10, when the country’s national team — among the top in Asia — is to play host to a World Cup qualifying game.

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