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The Death of the Blue Girl + Losing to Avoid Israelis + Do not Incite!

September 11, 2019
Maziar Bahari
2 min read
Ali Karimi was forced to lose to an Israeli opponent — and now several Iranian wrestlers attending championships in Kazakhstan may have to do the same
Ali Karimi was forced to lose to an Israeli opponent — and now several Iranian wrestlers attending championships in Kazakhstan may have to do the same
Iran's national basketball team will be competing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: International Basketball Federation (FIBA)
Iran's national basketball team will be competing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: International Basketball Federation (FIBA)

Last Saturday, I took my daughter to Wembley Stadium to watch the England-Bulgaria game with 90,000 other football fans, many of them women. On the same day, the parents of another girl who loved football were waiting to hear about the fate of their daughter, who had set herself alight because she was banned from entering a stadium in Iran. Sahar Khodayari loved Esteghlal, one of the most popular football teams in Iran and whose official kit is blue. The death of “the Blue Girl” shocked and horrified Iranians, and they’ve been expressing their sorrow on social media. Even some MPs and officials have shown some sympathy and have asked the government to rethink its policies. But the president's chief of staff repeated today that “the situation is not right for women to attend stadiums because football fans insult each other.” Also yesterday, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council asked journalists to “be careful about their language and not incite the public.” Why? Because foreign enemies had launched "a vast effort to turn the manner of her death into a social campaign of protest.”

The death of the Blue Girl is a new dark chapter in the long-running battle to make Iran comply with its obligations as a member of the international football federation, FIFA, and other international sporting associations. But what has FIFA done to support these women who simply want to exercise their basic rights? It has issued warnings to Iran, but not really done much beyond that. In fact, it seems quite happy to fall for Iran’s ridiculous attempts to make it look as if the Iranian Football Federation is letting women into stadiums.

Following on from last week’s story about judo champion Saeid Mollaei seeking asylum in Germany to avoid being forced to lose to an Israeli competitor, this week IranWire reported on the Iranian wrestlers who could, despite some of their huge achievements, be forced to bow out at the forthcoming World Wrestling Championships in Kazakhstan. They too may be unlucky enough to face Israeli athletes on the mat, and the choice is a dismal one: compete and face harsh punishment, or surrender any notion of upholding the guiding principles of competitive sport (and the idea of proudly representing one’s nation).

But thankfully, there’s some good news, also about sport (and so far without political upheavals). Iran’s national basketball team is going to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics! Many believed they wouldn’t make it, but thanks to some unexpected twists in the final qualifying stages, the team has had a fantastic result! The photos say it all.

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