For those of you who are unaware, the 2014 Asian Games began this week in South Korea. The competition is the world’s second-largest multi-sport event, with about 9,500 athletes representing 45 countries. (Where’s ESPN?)
But even before the Games began, members of the Qatari women’s basketball team were told by FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, that in order for the Qatari team to participate in the games, the players could not wear their headscarves or hijabs, even though they do so in observance of their Islamic faith.
The reason FIBA announced was because that its rules do not allow “headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry.” FIBA stood firm on its arcane position even though it is fully aware that the women basketball players would be wearing headscarves designed specifically for female athletes and that athletes competing in rowing, badminton and other sports have been wearing religious headscarves without incident.
The Qatari team was alerted of FIBA’s stance regarding hijabs but had hoped FIBA would make an allowance based upon the fact that the wearing of a hijab was for religious reasons – not as a fashion statement. When FIBA failed to make any allowance, the Qatari women chose to forfeit the game and then subsequently officially withdrew from the tournament prior to their second scheduled game. (Yes, FIBA will invite you to play in the spirit of international competition, but if you don’t like its rules – go home.)
“We are here to push the international association that all Muslim teams are ready to compete in any competition,” stated Alham Salem M. al-Mana, a member of the Quatai basketball team.
FIBA based in decision on the premise that the hijabs create unsafe conditions on the court. My question is how? What facts does FIBA have to support such a position?
In fact, many Muslims, and non-Muslims such as myself, have criticized the rule as discriminatory and Human Rights Watch challenged FIBA to prove that the headscarves are unsafe. “In the case of basketball, it’s difficult to see how a ban on the headscarf is anything other than an unnecessary restriction on the players’ rights to religious freedom and personal autonomy,” the organization said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch, along with a others, are pushing for FIBA to follow FIFA’s lead wherein, beginning last March, it has lifted its ban on religiously mandated headgear.
The ironic part of all of this is that the motto of the 2014 Asian Games is “Diversity Shines Here.” Apparently, however, FIBA is not bending any rules to live up to the creed.