Regulators Take a More Sporting Attitude towards Head Coverings, at Some Levels

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Earlier this month the Federation International Football Association, FIFA, lifted its ban on headscarves for female players following a two-year trial period. This was good news in particular for players who habitually sports hijabs and turbans.

FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC: “Male players can play with head covers too. It will be a basic head cover and the colour should be the same as the team jersey.”

Shireen Ahmed, a Canadian footballer who plays the sport competitively and wears hijab, was elated by the news—at first. Later Ahmed admitted she just felt exhausted after having spent years in limbo, told she could not compete at a serious level while wearing the accessory. “How can I laud FIFA for striking down a law that should never have been implemented in the first place,” she told Huffington Post in a piece titled “I’m a footballer who wears hijab; I didn’t need FIFA to tell me that”.

Initially, FIFA’s official stance held that head covers posed too great a risk of injury to players’ heads and necks. Regulators were watchful and vigilant during a two-year trial period after which time it was deemed safe for players to remain partially concealed. It should be noted that new “football headscarves” do not have pins or similar sharp or hard objects.

In regards to female players, Valcke told Al-Jazeera, “It was a plus for them to have authorization from the IFAB (International Football Association Board) for women to be able to play (wearing head covers). It was a request from these (Muslim) countries that said it would help support women’s football there.”

A sweatband is a sweatband, a doo-rag a doo-rag, and indeed athletes with long, flowing (or stringy) hair can be seen competing in sports from soccer to fencing to snowboarding. But headscarves worn for religious purposes were always considered a “special case”. Back in 2012 FIFA disqualified the Iranian women’s soccer team just prior to playing a qualifying match because they donned “Islamic headscarves”. 

One would think the newly decreed FIFA ban repeal would have an immediate trickle-down effect, but it hasn’t necessarily caught on with club sports or even high school athletes. 

In Aurora, Colorado Overland High School soccer player Samah Aidah was banned from a game when referees told her she could not wear her hijab because it was “dangerous”.

Aideh’s teammates supported her, wrapping themselves in colorful scarves headscarves and tweeting group shots pre-game (images that have since gone viral). Afterwards Aidah was eventually allowed to play, but the whole event raises questions about the referees’ “danger” reasoning in the first place. The logic might be one worth entertaining, if one has never witnessed, say, a team of Catholic nuns blazing a hot trail down a basketball court in full-on habit. 

The French Football Federation, FFF, will also uphold its ban on hijabs, turbans, etc. despite FIFA’s go-ahead, but for other reasons. FFF moved that religious head coverings on the field or court are at odds with the country’s firm stance on secularism. 

“Regarding the participation of female French national team players in international competitions on one hand, and the organization of national competitions on the other, the French Football Federation reiterates its duty to respect the constitutional and legislative principles of secularism that prevail in our country and feature in its statutes,” said the French football governing body in a statement.

As more sports organizations lift bans on religious trappings, (and as more women choosing to wear hijab compete in upper-tiered sports of all kinds) it becomes one less thing for serious athletes to concern themselves with.

In fact, more Muslim women are seeking out and exceeding at sports that are faster, tougher and in some cases, remarkably unique. Consider for a moment the recent trend of young Iranian girls enamored with Parkour, a sport that became popular in the mid-2000s and involves getting from point A to point B, in the most efficient and dazzling ways possible. 

Participants use their bodies to run, dodge, jump, scale walls and leap fences. The idea is to overcome obstacles and otherwise propel oneself forward. It’s a very physical undertaking, and not without a palpable symbolism.

The young women in Iran who practice Parkour often avoid sneers and jeers of male onlookers. One student from a Tehran Parkour clan told the Guardian: “It gives us courage and helps us release our pent-up energy. It’s great to feel that nothing can stand in your way.”

Head coverings are just that—a piece of fabric that covers the head. They are chosen and adorned by a great many individuals for a number of reasons. Still, the myriad of responses to such attire can be curious, and downright frustrating to some dedicated lovers of the game.

Ahmed expressed to Huffington Post: “After what seemed like several lifetimes, I found a league that would accept me. I went back hesitant and I went back happily. I tasted the joy in the sweat rolling down my face…And I remember what I always knew: I was a footballer who wore hijab. Not a hijab-wearing woman who played football.”

 

Summery

FIFA lifts its ban on religious head coverings at games, but will the move trickle down to younger players?

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