Religion and safety do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. In football, it was decided in 2007 that wearing head scarves while playing competitive football would not be permitted.
But now, with the colourful rhetoric of integration being hoisted on the FIFA mantel, it looks like women will be able to play with their hijabs.
The ban was said to be retarding to women’s football, limiting women of the Islamic faith from participating in the sport across Britain, Europe, Asia and Africa. Numbers of Islamic women are not high in sport to begin with, and such barriers seem to make for unnecessary impediments.
Iran’s women’s team was forced to forfeit their qualifying matches for the 2012 London Olympics because of the regulation – and their refusal not to wear the headscarves. But if one takes a broader view of the ban, it would logically apply to other religions which feature head wear – Jews, Rastafarians, Sikhs, to name a few.
The position taken by advocates for the headscarves in sport is that safety is simply not an issue. Activist Rimla Akhtar, chair of the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation (MWSF) stated that, “We’ve been working with the FA to first make it clear to referees in this country that the hijab can be worn safely and so should not be a concern for them.
“We have done this by putting together guidance for referees with the FA and this has been used ever since the issue emerged.” (Operation Black Voice, Feb 29). The Islamic Soccer League in Toronto has not registered a single incident where the hijab caused injury.
“Most of our girls,” explained Majied Ali, president of the ISL, ‘tie hijab around their heads, not around their necks, somewhat similar to how a bandana is tied.” (The Star, March 3).
It all seemed like part of the green grocer inventory of FIFA deliberations last week – on-line goal technology, whether women should be allowed to don the hijab in play.
“I am deeply grateful,” advanced Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, a committee member of FIFA, “that the proposal to allow women to wear the headscarf was unanimously endorsed by all member of the IFAB.” This was thrown in with the issue of the technologies of Hawk-Eye and GoalRef, and whether FIFA would in fact allow a fourth substitute in extra-time in World Cup matches.
Pressure had mounted on FIFA to reverse its stance on the headscarf. Wilfried Lemke, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on sport, wrote Sepp Blatter extolling the virtues of wearing a Velcro-opening headscarf that could still be deemed safe. Such an “issue can be resolved in a way that respects both the laws of the game as well as cultural considerations, while promoting football for all women without discrimination”. (SBS News, March 1).
The sporting administrators have not been consistent on this score. Rugby and taekwondo do not have such bans. Matters of safety have not been of concern there, showing that much in terms of sporting administration is a contrived fiction. In the end, Prince Ali won the day.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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