On March 12, 2019, Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian soccer fan nicknamed “The Blue Girl” after the colors of her favorite team Esteghlal, disguised herself as a man to attend a soccer match between Esteghlal and Al Ain from the UAE in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. Disguising herself as a man was the only way she could attend the game due to the Islamic Republic’s long-standing ban on women attending men’s sporting events. While this ban is not written into law and regulations, it is ruthlessly enforced by the Islamic Republic’s authorities, according to Human Rights Watch.
Once at the stadium, Sahar’s disquise was discovered by authorities, who arrested her immediately and detained her for days at Qarchak prison, pending the court case.
Six months later, Sahar was summoned to the Revolutionary Court in Tehran and accused of “insulting officials and
“openly committing a sinful act by appearing in public without a Hijab.” Although it is said that no verdict was given during her hearing, Sahar was informed that she may be facing up to six months in jail.
After learning this news, Sahar tragically took her own life by pouring petrol on herself and setting herself on fire in front of the court building. She died in hospital only a week later from third-degree burns. It is said that approximately 90% of her skin surface has been affected.
Sahar’s death sparked widespread outrage, with millions of people and FIFA and Amnesty International calling for an end to the discriminatory treatment of women in Iran. The hashtag “BlueGirl began trending on social media platforms, and thousands shared their support and empathy for Sahar.
Prominent Iranian soccer laver Ali Karimi has been vocal about gender discrimination against Iranian women and asked Iranian soccer fans to boycott soccer stadiums to protest Sahar’s death. Sahar’s tragic death is a heartbreaking reminder of the countless obstacles and discrimination women face in Iran.