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'They prefer to say nothing' – Fifa accused of ignoring death of Iranian campaigner Sahar Khodayari

Tom Morgan
Iranian women are not afforded equal rights to their male compatriots - Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

An Iranian campaign group has expressed despair at Fifa's "toothless" failure to cite the death of a protester in a statement urging the nation to finally allow women in football stadiums.

Gianni Infantino, president of the world governing body, said Iran must start allowing women into matches, raising the possibility that the nation could finally face sanctions over its archaic law.

However, activists have taken issue with Infantino's failure to reference Iranian campaigner Sahar Khodayari, 30, who died earlier this month after setting herself on fire.

Khodayari had been awaiting trial for trying to attend a match in the nation which still enforces laws banning women when men's teams are playing. The law was enforced after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Infantino has said that he now hopes to see a change in place for the country's World Cup qualifier with Cambodia next month. "Our position is firm and clear," he said. "Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. Now is the moment to change things and Fifa is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October."

However, OpenStadiums, an activist movement of Iranian women seeking to end the discrimination, told Telegraph Sport they felt "let down" by Infantino, who had previously listened directly to their concerns. One lead campaigner, whose identity is being withheld amid fears of reprisals, said: "I'm so disappointed with Fifa and what they have said. It's a weak statement. I think they are saying this because they don't want to take responsibility."

Khodayari, nicknamed 'Blue Girl', in reference to the colours worn by her favourite team Esteghlal of Tehran, had been arrested in March for trying to enter the stadium disguised as a man.

OpenStadiums told Telegraph Sport: "I told directly to Infantino that this is our daily life problem. Detention, lots of life-threatening situations. I don't know why he doesn't understand or why he wants to buy time."

Campaigners believe Fifa were previously "hoodwinked" after a group of female fans were permitted to attend the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in Tehran last November.

"Infantino came last year to the final of the Asian Champions League," the campaign group added. "He was apparently happy with it. After that match we saw no progress. It was just a show.

"Then in July he sent a letter which was sort of angry with Iran, but you just expect after such a tragedy in recent weeks that we see something more rigorous, not something less. It doesn't even recognise her. When you are talking about progress you have to see some steps. We don't see any."

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have both called on football's world governing body Fifa to end the ban. Iran and the nation's FA have not responded to requests for comment by Telegraph Sport.

The activist said she did not know Khodayari, but she dismissed local claims that the 30-year-old had mental health issues.

"We are in the frontline and the target of security forces in Iran," the activist added. "the president is not considering human rights. They want to be cool and pretend they are protecting women's rights, but when it comes to taking action they prefer to say nothing.

In June women were locked out of Iran's friendly with Syria at the Azadi Stadium,  the venue for the World Cup qualifier on Oct 10.