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Protests Against Ban On Women At Men's Soccer Games In Iran


Women in Iran are prohibited from attending men's soccer games in the national stadium. To get around that, some women dress up as men to go. They risk arrest and worse. Last week, Sahar Khodayari was sentenced to six months in prison for attending a men's game. At the court, she then set herself on fire in protest and she died. Her death has now sparked worldwide outrage, with calls on FIFA, the sport's governing body, to intervene. Activists have used the hashtag #bluegirl on Twitter, the color of Khodayari's favorite Iranian team. That includes Kat Khosrowyar, former coach to Iran's national under-19 women's team. She's now head coach at Seattle's Reign Academy and she joins us now on the line. Thank you so much.

KATAYOUN KHOSROWYAR: Thank you, Lulu. It's an honor to be here today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think this prompted such a huge outcry and response?

KHOSROWYAR: This has never happened before. I mean, I've lived in Iran since 2005. It's only been a few months that I've moved back to the U.S. And, you know, growing up there, there was no women's soccer. So I helped, you know, pick up and create that platform for women. For me, this is like something that is, you know, completely outrageous - to hear that something so bad has happened to, you know, a fan - a woman who was a huge soccer fan. You know, because I was there for 15 years, and I've seen how soccer is ingrained in our DNA. So this has been a really unfortunate event and it's very difficult to cope with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kat, Iran isn't a hyper-segregated society. Men and women work together. They socialize and mix in public life. So why do authorities separate men and women in stadiums?

KHOSROWYAR: This is a very good question. It's a very, very tricky question, as well, because I still don't know the answers to that. And I don't know the answer because of this specific stadium - Azadi Stadium is in the capital of Tehran. It holds 100,000 people. It has a lot of security. And I think what is going through, you know, their head is that they don't know how to, you know, protect the women that go in there with, you know, 100,000 men all over the place. But if you go to, like, the other big cities of Iran, if you go, like, with other sports, there is no problem with it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: FIFA President Gianni Infantino has previously urged Iranian authorities to take "concrete steps" for women to attend games. Are authorities likely to respond to pressure from FIFA?

KHOSROWYAR: The authorities are responding. I think the government does want this to happen, it just takes time. There has been a lot of talk for the past few years, they just want to test it. For example, last year, with my national team, we were able to go twice, which was very historic. So we only thought that that was going to continue. But the government needs to facilitate opening the stadium for women and, you know, FIFA has demanded it. I do, you know, hope the situation gets resolved quickly for women to come watch their favorite team play and support them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've seen the hashtag #bluegirl trending on Twitter. You asked in a tweet what sports fans could do to support female soccer fans in Iran. Do you think fans can actually change things?

KHOSROWYAR: Fans are the change-makers in the country. You know, soccer is the national sport. I think that this has to somehow evolve into getting more women involved and men have to, you know, support this cause because we do need, you know, their help. We do need the fact that they've been, you know, working in soccer for a much longer time than we have to get involved in helping us progress. So I think men need to either come together to, like, help us or, you know, it's just going to continue the way it is. And men have a huge role - bigger role than us to help facilitate what what happens next.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kat Khosrowyar, head coach at Seattle's Reign Academy. Thank you so much.

KHOSROWYAR: Thank you, Lulu, for having me.