Lighting a fire

Sports | REUTERS 13 Sep 2019

Fifa officials will visit Iran following the death of a female fan who set herself on fire in protest at her arrest for attending a football match.

Sahar Khodayari, dubbed "Blue Girl" due to her favorite team Esteghlal's colors, died in hospital on Monday after her self-immolation outside a court where she feared being jailed for six months having attended the match disguised as a man.

While foreign women have been allowed limited access to matches, Iranian women have been banned from stadiums when men's teams have been playing since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

A Fifa spokesman said that meetings with Iranian football officials, expected in the next two weeks, were part of preparations for World Cup qualifying games - Iran face Cambodia at home on October 10 - and were not a specific response to Khodayari's death.

The Fifa officials, however, will check the preparations made by the Iranian FA to provide access to that match for women.

The death of Khodayari has caused widespread outrage in Iran and internationally and there have been calls on social media for the country's's football federation to be suspended or banned.

Fifa reiterated "our calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women in Iran."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff said that women would be allowed into stadiums if foul language in chants and sporadic violence was curbed.

Iran's national team won a World Cup qualifier in Hong Kong 2-0 on Tuesday but captain Masoud Shojaei described it as "the most bitter and saddest win" of the team.

"We scored two goals and won the game on the field. But we lost because Sahar is no longer," he wrote on Instagram. "Shame on me for not having been able to do anything and shame on those who took away the most obvious right from Sahar and all Sahars."

A group of women were permitted to attend the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in Teheran last November. Female fans, however, have been denied access to matches since.

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