FIFA Lays Down the Law for Iran, Inspired by #BlueGirl
By Jake Gellerstein, Associate Editor
In early September, 2019, the hashtag “#BlueGirl” began trending on Twitter. This moniker referred to Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian citizen who passed away as a result of lighting herself on fire in protest. Khodayari was potentially facing up to six months in prison for the crime of entering an Iranian football stadium. Women have been banned from entering Iran football stadiums since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Khodayari’s story received national attention from NGO’s such as the Human Right’s Watch and the Open Stadiums Movement, a coalition started by Iranian Woman seeking to ensure more freedoms for women and end the constant discrimination. Masoud Shojaei, the captain of the Iranian football team, shared his support on Instagram, stating that Iran’s ban is “rooted in outdated and cringe-worthy thoughts that will not be understood by future generations”. Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Directior, Philip Luther said in an interview, “What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heartbreaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country.” Luther further implored both the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), and the Asian Football Confederation to end the ban on woman entering Iranian football stadiums.
The story eventually reached FIFA, the international governing body of football. FIFA, a private company, spoke with Iranian officials to get the country to lift the oppressive ban. While Iran has lifted the ban only temporarily, FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated that the association’s efforts have succeeded. “We have been assured that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums.” Further, the official FIFA statement included strong language; “FIFA’s position is firm and clear: woman have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.”
The Iranian government has been known to prosecute women for asserting their freedoms and acting in protest of gender inequality in the country. As a member of the United Nations, Iran is obligated to adhere to the organization’s policies. This includes Article I of the Charter of the U.N., which states that the organization’s purpose, in part, is in “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion…”
While Infantino’s statement has forced only a potentially temporary solution, Khodayari’s story shows the power of non-state actors in the realm of international law. Amidst the tragedy of Sahar Khodayari’s death, there is hope that her message will spark further change in the future of women’s access to spectate sports and other necessary equalities.
Iran’s ‘blue girl’ dies after setting herself on fire, BBC (Sept. 10, 2019) available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49646879
Brian Homewood, Soccer: FIFA tells Iran it is time to allow women into stadiums, Reuters (Sept. 19, 2019) available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-soccer-women/soccer-fifa-tells-iran-it-is-time-to-allow-women-into-stadiums-idUSKBN1W410P
Iran: Shocking death of football fan who set herself on fire exposes impact of contempt for women’s rights, Amnesty International (Sept. 10, 2019) available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/09/iran-shocking-death-of-football-fan-who-set-herself-on-fire-exposes-impact-of-contempt-for-womens-rights/
Samantha Lewis, Death of Blue Girl shines light on women’s rights in Iran, The Guardian (Sept. 20, 2019)available at https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/sep/21/death-of-blue-girl-shines-light-on-womens-rights-in-iran
U.N. Charter, art. 1, ¶3