Let us rewind to the moment when the dreams of the Iranian women’s football team of making it to the Olympics were shattered before the whistle blew.
They stood on the football pitch in front of their flag devastated after FIFA banned them from playing against Jordan, because they wore “Hijab”, headscarves. This led the undefeated team in the first round to be disqualified from the opportunity to participate in the 2012 London Olympics.
The team tried their best to tailor their uniform, but it wasn’t good enough. FIFA allowed them to wear caps to cover the hair, but would not allow them to cover the neck, which defies the form of Hijab.
FIFA claim that the ban was made “for safety reasons” and had to defended itself against heavy criticism. The reason behind the ban is nowhere near logical. Their argument is weak, based on hypothetical reasoning rather than proven studies and evidence.
Putting the girls in a situation where they have to decide between their faith and their passion for football was a complete disappointment. To take off a scarf for a football match would have been a joke and a big disgrace to Muslim communities. This ban only shows how ignorant FIFA is towards Islamic culture.
Without tangible proof that that wearing Hijab is a major safety concern for the players, the ban is a clear act of discrimination. They are taking the safety issue out of proportion, especially given that players are allowed to wear the Hijab in other Olympics sports such as taekwondo and rugby, which are considered more aggressive than football.
Vice-president and the youngest FIFA member, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, presented the case last weekend in Surrey. He provided the board with a designed Velcro Hijab available commercially, which would solve FIFA’s safety concerns.
The United Nations backed his proposal to overdraw the decision of the ban. Wilfried Lemke, sports adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, wrote, “FIFA has the responsibility to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to participate in football.” The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) acting president Zhang Jilong has also asked in a letter to overturn the ban, which he called a “righteous cause”
Having played football in university and during my teenage years, I’ve seen many accidents happen, but I never saw or heard about one that was caused because of Hijab. It might make the players feel hotter, but it does not restrict their movement, or vision. If anything, when we played against a team wearing Hijab, we never had to worry about hair pulling and grabbing.
Wearing Hijab is nothing but a sign of modesty. There is no need to stir tension when there are several solutions that can be made in order to accommodate both needs.
Keeping this outlaw would only empower extremist Islamic parties that believe that girls should be forbidden from practicing sports, specially “man” labeled sports such as football. In the Arab world we hear absurd opinions on this matter. A respectable religious figure came on television and said that a girl should not play football because she might fall and her body might be exposed.
Muslim athletic women discounted all the attacks and criticism from their communities and extremists parties only to find FIFA rules harsher. FIFA has nothing to lose, all those who object to their participation have everything to gain, and these ladies are the victims with everything to lose.
In Iran and in many other Islamic countries girls will kiss football goodbye. In order to avoid trouble, governments will take the easiest way out and will no longer send girls to compete in competitions. This will destroy the ambitions and hard work of these athletes. The ban did not only stop the Iranian team who are forced by their government to wear the Hijab, but drove other Muslim women who wear it by choice away from professional football.
Reconsidering this outlaw would change the lives of many Muslim women all over the world, who play and dream of competing professionally. There is so much hidden talent in Asia and the Middle East waiting for an opportunity to “bend it like Becham.”
The final voting on this matter will be held in July, and for the sake of these women, let us hope that the chains holding athletes wearing Hijab will be broken.