by Michael Semel
Muslim women face enough obstacles today living in a society where they are frequently discriminated against and face misogynistic treatment. Last month, the Qatari women’s basketball team encountered another obstacle when the International Basketball Association, or FIBA, stood by its outdated rule of banning the wearing of hijabs and other head coverings as a safety hazard. The Qatari women refused to play without their head coverings and were told they could not play if they kept their head coverings on. So, the women stood up for their religious rights and did not take the court at the Asian Games at the end of September.
Does FIBA truly believe that hijabs impose a risk of danger to other players? International bodies in soccer, boxing, and other sports have done the right thing and removed this discriminatory and baseless rule because the facts do not support hijabs as a safety hazard. The Qatari women’s refusal to play without their hijabs is a worthy show of social defiance. These women face so many difficulties within their country to simply make it to this international tournament, and yet, rather than embracing the diversity that comes with the globalization of sports, FIBA is pushing back against these distinguishing cultural characteristics. As an avid sports fan myself, I know that sports are designed to unite a group of people, and I have witnessed this truth many times. However, the FIBA ban on head coverings is a polarizing issue and can discourage Muslim women from chasing their athletic dreams.
The team’s decision not to play at the Asian Games led Qatar delegation leader Khalid al-Jabir to emphasize, “We’re not forfeiting games – we’re not being allowed to play.” This is an important distinction as the team was left with virtually no choice but to abstain from playing. Choosing to play without their hijabs would have gone against their religious beliefs and would have only caused more problems back in their home country where they would have been abused or threatened for violating this standard of dress. While it can take decades or more for a social stand to enact change, I am confident that FIBA will soon get rid of their irrational rule banning headgear because there is clear agreement by most that the rule is unnecessary and hinders Muslim women from involvement in international basketball. There is even new sports gear that has been created and designed specifically for Muslim female athletes. The 2012 Olympics were the first ones in which Qatar sent female athletes. These women have faced unthinkable difficulties within their country and throughout their journey to the most prestigious athletic celebration in the world. Two years later, these same women are dealing with another obstacle, but you can be sure they will continue to persevere and compete in the name of equality.
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