A woman in Iran who was sentenced to six months in prison for disguising herself as a man to enter a soccer stadium, where women are barred, died this week from severe burns after setting herself on fire outside of the courthouse.

The 29 year old, Sahar Kohdayari, attempted to enter Azadi Stadium, but was quickly caught and charged with “appearing in public without a hijab.” Last week, after her court case was adjourned, Kohdayari poured gasoline over herself and lit herself on fire. Her death has sparked international outrage, including from the former captain of Iran’s national team, who is calling for a boycott on soccer games until women are given the right to enter the stadium.

On social media, Kohdayari has been dubbed the “Blue Girl,” as a reference to her favorite team’s colors. Italian soccer club AS Roma tweeted in support of an end to the ban on women in stadiums, saying “#ASRoma is yellow and red but today our heart bleeds blue for Sohar Kohdayari.” FIFA, the governing body for international football clubs, has also expressed concern regarding the situation. They have warned Iran to lift the ban on women before the country is set to host a large World Cup qualifying game in October.

The ban on women in soccer stadiums in Iran has been in effect since 1981, two years after the Iranian revolution. Because Iran is a theocratic nation, women and men must be segregated from one another in public spaces for religious reasons, therefore barring women from attending male sporting events. Groups of women in Iran have been protesting against the ban for a long time. By 2005, there were weekly gatherings outside of Azadi Stadium, and in 2013, the organizing group Open Stadium was created to lobby with FIFA, local soccer clubs, and international human rights activists.

Soccer players and activists from all over the world have called upon FIFA to use their power and put pressure on the Iranian government to lift the ban. Magdalena Eriksson, a player from British soccer team Chelsea F.C. Women, tweeted “[FIFA] or any other organization that’s in a position of privilege or power, you need to act to make this stop!”

Sources: New York Times 9/10/19; CNN 9/10/19; Twitter 9/10/19; Washington Post 9/10/19; Twitter 9/10/19

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