FIFA Endorses Proposal Lifting Controversial Ban on Hijab

FIFA has proposed lifting a controversial ban on the Iranian national soccer team from competing in the 2012 Olympics.  FIFA had previously declared the banning was due to the hijab (headscarf) worn by the team’s players.  “Hijab” the refers to both the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women and modest Muslim styles of dress in general.  See more on hijab here.  During its December 16-17 Executive meeting in Tokyo, FIFA decided to lift a controversial ban on hijab worn by soccer players exercising their choice to wear a headdress according to their interpretation of their faith.

The Iranian Womens' Soccer Team, wearing hijab.

The ban was contested by the Iranian football federation chief Ali Kafashian and new FIFA vice president, Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan, who asserted that

 “There is nothing religiously symbolic about covering your head.”

Prince Ali was answering criticism by three French womens’ rights organizations that wrote a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter stating “To accept a special dress code for women athletes not only introduces discrimination among athletes but is contrary to the rules governing sport movement, setting a same dress code for all athletes without regard to origin or belief.”

Prince Ali pointed out that: “You have players with face masks like [Chelsea goalkeeper] Petr Cech (pictured), you have players who wear headbands.”

Petr Cech of Chelsea dons a black face mask.

Said Ali: “There is nothing religiously symbolic about covering your head.”

FIFA has stated it will put forward the proposal to the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which governs association rules of soccer, at its next meeting on March 3rd, 2012.  The secretive IFAB consists of England alongside FIFA, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The proposal calls for the sanctioning of a safe, velcro-opening headscarf for players and officials.

Essentially, one of the criticisms of Iran is that they impose the hijab restriction upon its players.  Iranian players are not the only ones negatively affected by a ban on hijab, however.  There are at least three players in Jordan that want to wear hijab but currently cannot due to the restrictive rules against women’s clothing.

Prince Ali stated that the right of visiting teams to Muslim countries not to don the hijab should be respected.  “If a team goes to a country where players do cover the heads, that host country has to respect  the right of the visitors not to,” he said. [L]et there be mutual respect.”

The protests against hijab are coming from a country, France, that is known for its fierce secularism.  France bans the burqa, and has arrested women for wearing what Middle Eastern historian Christina Michelmore deems  a rejection of Western values.   Michelmore stated:

“They see it as part of their identity, as separate from this globalized McDonald’s world.”

Burqa-bans are counter-productive and harmful, according to Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch: “[Burka bans] violate the rights of those who choose to wear the veil and do nothing to help those who are compelled to do so.”

We hope that FIFA and IFAB uphold the right to play organized soccer for everyone, in accordance with their motto: “For the Good of the Game.”

Hijab wearing players just want a level playing ground.

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