Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian female football fan died after setting herself on fire outside a court after learning she may have to serve a six-month sentence for trying to enter a soccer stadium where women are banned, a semi-official news agency Image Credit: AP

An Iranian football fan who set herself ablaze and died after being arrested for trying to defy a ban on women in stadiums was ill with a "neurological disorder", her father said.

Sahar Khodayari, 30, was reportedly arrested early last year when she tried to enter a stadium in Tehran dressed as a man to watch her favourite team, Esteghlal FC.

Dubbed "blue girl" because of the club's colours, she set herself on fire outside a court last week after being told she would be jailed for six months, various media outlets said.

"My daughter had a neurological disorder and that day she became very angry, insulting and fought with law enforcement officers," her father Heidar Ali Khodayari said, quoted by Mehr news agency late Tuesday.

Iran has barred Iranian women spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981, with clerics arguing they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men.

The judiciary said a young woman had been arrested when she tried to enter a stadium and faced charges of offending "public chastity and insulting" law enforcement officers.

It said no sentence had been issued against her since there had been no trial and the judge was away on leave.

Khodayari's death sparked outrage on social media, with many celebrities, soccer players and activists using the hashtag #blue_girl to call on FIFA to ban Iran from international competitions and fans to boycott matches.

But her father said she never received any support from such people when she was in hospital.

"During those days that she was in hospital, no celebrities, soccer players or relevant officials came to visit her. I didn't see anyone," he was quoted as saying by Mehr.

Khodayari did not "sacrifice" herself for any cause and had been influenced by friends, he added.

Iran has come under pressure from FIFA to allow women to attend qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, and was reportedly given a deadline of August 31 to comply.

The sports ministry said last month that women fans would be allowed into the stadium when Team Melli - as the national team are known - play their next home qualifier on October 10.

The ban on women in stadiums is not written into law or regulations, but is "ruthlessly enforced", said Human Rights Watch, calling it a "clear violation of the rules in FIFA".

A Iranian government spokesman said it agreed at a meeting Sunday on "the presence of women in sports clubs".

"Women can take part in all national games," government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted as saying Wednesday by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

"The conditions are moving towards the presence of women in league competitions," he added.

Sahar Khodayari loved watching football, and ended up paying for it with her life.

Sahar Khodayari enacted self immolation in Tehran last Saturday after leaving a court where she was being tried for attempting to enter Azadi stadium disguised as a man. The woman, who is known as "Blue Girl" after the colours of Esteghlal, shouted anti-regime slogans while dousing herself with petrol, witnesses told local press.

Her death was announced in a statement by Motahari hospital on Monday.

Iranian women are banned from attending football stadiums. The incident has prompted a national debate about the ban, with Iranian footballers leading the call to scrap it.

There's been an outpouring of grief and outrage on social media over the grisly death of this woman in her 20s who's come to be known as the "blue girl," a reference to the colors of Esteghlal, the club she went to cheer in the capital, Tehran.

The team official twitter account tweeted in support of Sahar saying "She supported us despite the politics made it illegal for her, but what we do can do to support her? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING."

A photo purportedly showing her prone on a hospital bed, her wounds tightly bound in head-to-foot bandages like a mummy, has been widely shared on Instagram and Twitter.

Kodayari, which is not her real name, media have reported, apparently slipped into the match covered up, a photo circulated on Twitter has suggested.

The incident has revived calls in some quarters to end the state's restrictive policies toward women. Some of Iran's most popular soccer players have called for a boycott of stadiums, and FIFA, the world soccer organization, demanded protection for women fighting to lift the stadium ban.

A hashtag #FifaStandUp4Sahar is trending on twitter calling Fifa to take a stand against Iran.

"She wasn't just the 'blue girl'. Sahar was the 'Iran girl,' where men decide the fate of women and can deprive them of their most basic human rights, and where there are women who are anti-women and who assist them in this blatant cruelty," reformist lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri tweeted on Tuesday. "We are all responsible for the jailing and the self-immolation of all of the Sahars of this country."

Soccer Ball Heart

Ali Karimi, a retired soccer player with 4.5 million followers on Instagram, shared a widely circulated meme of a female silhouette, her arms aloft and a soccer ball where her heart would be. A popular former Esteghlal player, midfielder Farhad Majidi, tweeted a photo of an Empty stadium with the caption, "Sahar, my dear, the stands at Azadi stadium will forever yearn to see you."

A popular former Esteghlal player, midfielder Farhad Majidi, tweeted a photo of an Empty stadium with the caption, "Sahar, my dear, the stands at Azadi stadium will forever yearn to see you."

So far the only government official to comment is the vice president of women's and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, who wrote Tuesday on Telegram that she was assured that the government would take unspecified action.

"This is really the height of misery for a society, and exposes how, in the 21st century, a girl can set herself on fire for not being afforded the smallest of rights for any citizen, and not a single official seems to care," one Twitter user in Iran lamented. "If this doesn't stop, then it will be the future of an entire youth whose dreams and happiness have been trampled on."

Fifa frowned

Most of the public outrage has been directed at Iranian authorities for failing to amend a law that could harm Iran's standing within FIFA, the global body that organizes soccer's World Cup. Hundreds of Twitter users have urged FIFA to penalize Iran, and the organization urged authorities "to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women."

FIFA had set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to allow women to enter sports venues, but Iranian authorities have only promised to allow women to attend an Oct. 10 World Cup playoff, the semi-official Mehr news agency has reported.

When FIFA President Gianni Infantino last visited Tehran in November, he attended an Asian Champions League match, where hundreds of handpicked women were allowed entry and seated in a special "family section."

But it was a one-off gesture, designed to placate the most powerful body in football, and authorities reinstated the ban after he left. Such gestures are not enough for those Iranians who want the conservative clergy to loosen its grip on social mores.

"Where else in the world is watching soccer a crime, its penalty death?" an Iranian asked on Twitter.

Another user asked Fifa to sanction Iran tweeting "FIFA must sanction the apartheid and sexist federation of Islamic Republic of Iran, a girl commits suicide today and hundreds of other girls have been arrested just for the sake of watching football in the stadium."