09/12/2019, 19.27
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FIFA officials in Iran after the death of the woman who has become the symbol of the struggle for open stadiums

The visit was scheduled as part of the World Cup qualifying process. Tensions remain high following Sahar Khodayari’s death, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse where she was on trial for violating the ban on women in stadiums.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Officials from FIFA, the world’s football body, plan to visit Iran as part of the preparations by the country’s football team for the 2022 World Cup qualifying matches.

The visit comes in the wake of the death of Sahar Khodayari, a fan of the Esteghlal F.C. Known also as the Blue girl because of the team’s colour, she died in hospital on Tuesday after setting herself on fire outside a courthouse where she was on trial for disguising herself as a man to enter a stadium and watch a game.

The FIFA visit and Khodayari’s death are unconnected, FIFA sources say since the trip had been scheduled for some time. Iran is set to play against Cambodia on 10 October in Tehran.

Still, FIFA sent its condolences to the family and appealed to the authorities to guarantee freedom and security to women in their legitimate battle against the ban on women.

Following the 1979 Islamic revolution, the new clerical regime imposed a complete ban on women at men’s sporting events. There were some exceptions for foreigners, but these were occasional and limited.

Steps taken by Iran’s government and football authorities about women in sporting venues have come under international scrutiny. In fact, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has asked the Iranian government to take concrete steps towards greater freedom and rights.

However, despite official statements, it is hard to separate FIFA's interest in Iran from the latest, terrible news. Sahar Khodayari’s death is front-page around the world. Her struggle for free and unrestricted access to men’s sporting events is part of the fight for women's rights and freedom.

Khodayari was detained on 12 March at Tehran’s Azadi stadium disguised as a man to watch her team, Esteghlal. Thanks to a selfie to her sister, she was identified, arrested and taken to Gharchak Varamin women's prison, south of the capital.

Released on bail pending her court case, she reportedly returned to the court on 1st September to retrieve her seized mobile phone and heard she could face prison time for immodesty. Terrified, she set herself on fire with petrol, causing third-degree burns on 90 per cent of her body.

“This senseless tragedy should be a turning point for Iran’s government, which has been ignoring calls by its people to lift its discriminatory ban on women in stadiums, and is now facing the human costs of that policy,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).  “FIFA,” he added, “should uphold its statutes against discrimination once and for all.”

Against the backdrop of great interest by international media, Iranian authorities have imposed a ban on the affair. But some Iranians are critical, like the former head of the Iranian Football Federation (1994-1997) Dariush Mostafavi, who accuses the authorities and the legal system of thoughtlessly putting Khodayari on trial, thus damaging the country’s image internationally.

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