As the newly crowned player of the year at FIFA's The Best awards, U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, paid tribute on Monday, September 23, to Iranian Sahar Khodayari, dubbed as the "Blue Girl."
Islamic republic's security forces arrested 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari last March when she tried to enter Tehran's main stadium to watch her favorite blue-jersey Esteqlal playing against the United Arab Emirates’ al-Ain.
After being released on bail, Sahar Khodayari decided to burn herself September 1 after she found out about her impending jail sentence for the "crime" of entering a sports arena; she died a few days later as a result of her injuries.
Her tragic death triggered a series of criticism against an unwritten law in Iran that has deprived women of the right to enter stadiums and watch male football games. Dubbed as the "Blue Girl," after the color of her favorite team's jersey, Sahar Khodayari turned into a paradigm for women's rights in Iran.
Megan Rapinoe's tribute to the Blue Girl echoed similar remarks by many women soccer players, including the members of Germany, Italy, and Sweden's national teams.
Meanwhile, FIFA's president, Gianni Infantino also used the platform in the Italian capital city Rome to reiterate that Iranian women would be allowed to freely watch Iran's next World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in Tehran.
Infantino had earlier announced that the Islamic Republic authorities had assured him that, after almost four decades, they would allow Iranian women to enter Tehran's main stadium, Azadi.
Iranian women used to freely enter the country's sports arenas, including Azadi stadium, to watch their favorite games.
However, almost immediately after the downfall of Iran's last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, women were practically banned from attending men's sports competitions.
FIFA has repeatedly warned Iran to end the forty-year ban before its World Cup qualification matches. It is still not clear if the international football body has succeeded in securing full rights for Iranian women.
Critics are concerned that FIFA will make concessions and Iran will get away with a token show of allowing a limited number of women, as it already happened once earlier.
FIFA's charter prohibits discrimination by member federations and could allow for Iran to be suspended from international soccer.
Nevertheless, conservative clerics, including those known as officially recognized Grand Ayatollahs, have vehemently resisted the call, vaguely asserting that women watching men's games is against the "principles of Islam."