Sunday, June 12, 2011

Iran's Hissy Fit Over FIFA Hijab Ban Lacks Credibility

FIFA’s ban on women athletes wearing the hijab and its recent clash with the Iran Football Federation renews the debate about cultural and religious sensitivity in amateur sports competition.

However, using FIFA’s latest run-in with Iran as an example of religious discrimination is dumb. Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ever the provocateur, called FIFA officials “dictators and colonialists” in a characteristically over-the-top news conference.

A FIFA official ruled that the Iranian women’s football team forfeited its match against Jordan for violating the ban on hijabs in competition. The rule has been in effect since 2007. The forfeit is a serious blow to the Iranian team’s chances to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics.

Iran’s Football Federation knew full well of FIFA’s hijab ban. Iran signed an agreement in 2010 accepting the ban and agreeing to wear caps to cover players’ hair. Iran broke its word with FIFA. It used the women’s football team as a pawn to gain political traction, hoping that Muslim countries will take the bait and raise a collective howl.

Make no mistake. FIFA’s hijab ban has little merit. There is no evidence the hijab poses safety hazard and the concern over religious symbolism is nonsense. The hijab is more of a modesty issue. Most Muslim women I know wear the hijab for both modesty and religious reasons, but not all of them. And by the end of the day, the hijab is worn to preserve modesty. To deny women this simple right is to exclude Muslim athletes from their rightful place in the sports world.

FIFA, however, found a solution by agreeing to permit Iranian female athletes to compete in the 2010 Youth Olympics if they wore the specially designed cap. The cap covers the head to the hairline, but not below the ears to cover the neck. I can live with this compromise if it means Muslim girls and women can compete without compromising their dignity.

In January, a 12-year-girl was prevented from playing in the first half of a Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball League game because she wore the hijab. At halftime, a league official gave her a religious exemption and she was allowed to play in the second half. Now the league requires an exception to the uniform rules by having parents give written permission.

The league quickly found a common sense solution to a thorny issue, but the same can’t be said for USA Weightlifting and the International Weightlifting Federation. The organizations said no to 35-year-old weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah’s request for a religious exemption to wear a modified uniform that covered everything but her face, hands and feet. Abdullah had planned to compete in the American Open Weightlifting Championship.

IWF rules prohibit clothing from covering the elbows or knees because judges must see that the joints are locked to complete a lift. That makes sense, but there are clothing options that are tight enough to allow judges to determine whether the lift was successful without compromising the athlete’s modesty. USA Weightlifting, to its credit, said it would address the issue with the IWF later this month.

The IWF ban on modest clothing is not a case of simply failing to keep up with the increasing presence of Muslim women in sports. In the United States, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act prohibits sports organizations from discriminating against athletes based on “race, color, religion, sex, age or national origin.” The act has been in effect since 1998, giving the IWF plenty of time to revise its bylaws.

Western and Muslim women’s right activists are focused today on Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. There’s been a great deal of international support for Saudi women who want the right to drive. By granting women the freedom to choose how to live their lives strengthens their relationship with the global community. Yet these same activists remain silent over the hurdles Muslim women athletes face to gain a foothold on the playing field or basketball court.

Few women in leadership roles appear willing to tackle the nuts and bolts of dismantling discriminatory bylaws of sports organizations. These women contribute to the marginalization of Muslims with their silence
There is a growing number of Muslim women that want to participate at the international level. Eighteen-year-old Saudi equestrian Dalma Malhas captured a bronze medal at the 2010 Youth Olympics. Saudi Lina Al-Maeena founded the Jeddah United women’s basketball team and she wants the team to play abroad. Yet full participation in sports for many Muslim women is beyond their reach because some organizations are unwilling to change the language in their bylaws to accommodate cultural and religious differences.


Jay Kactuz said...

1. As you say, Iran broke an agreement. In 2010 they said one thing, now they have decided otherwise. Obviously agreements mean nothing to Muslims or you.

2. Modesty is useless without morality. There is no morality in a woman that covers herself yet thinks hate and discrimination done by Muslims against non-Muslims is fine. Also I doubt that anyone that says "Praise be upon him" after the name of your dear prophet has a gram of morality anywhere, assuming he/she has read the hadith and quran.
3. Every time a Muslim talks about discrimination or accommodating "cultural and religious differences" I want to laugh. Muslims continually attack and discriminate against non-Muslims everywhere they dominate - and people like you do nothing.

You are a part of the hate and violence. You are a true follower of your dear prophet. He would have been proud of you. Had you been alive 14000 years ago, you would probably have written how the women of the Banu-al-Mustaliq really wanted to be raped and enslaved by your dear prophet and his men. Maybe it was their choice. Maybe the rapes were "religious accommodation" because the Quran permits it! Maybe killing their husbands was good sport for Mohammed according to Quran 9:111. Maybe you are up to your eyeballs in the same mentality of deception and denial.

Mark my words, bad times are coming because you, Muslims, are vile, violent people that cannot live in peace with others. I doubt if the broken, abused bodies of men women and children will bother you because it will be done in the name of Islam, according to the words and deeds of your dear prophet - and people like you will be silent, again, as always.

Have a nice day,


Sabria Jawhar said...

Oh, Jay. Spreading your special brand of sunshine where ever you go. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and all will be better.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Jay. Haha, how fresh! Robert Spencer is waiting to embrace you...he's evil too but at least does his research in one way or another. You don't see the irony in being the mirror of the armageddon-chasing Ahmedinejad at all do you?


Another superb piece. And what really annoys the simple flag-chewers like the one above is that you've been so even-handed. I didn't actually know the history of the Iranian Football Association's dealings with FIFA on this. It's a shame that they have made this a political pawn themselves.

But still, FIFA's ban isn't only about Iran. Sooner or later, other countries like, say, KSA or Pakistan will field women's teams at major tournaments. And what if a mu7ajjaba girl wants to play for a country where she's in the minority, or even just her local club? This ban affects all female players, anywhere, even at amateur or school level.

So yes, big slap to Iran for deliberately picking a fight over this. But let's look at the merits of the FIFA ruling:

There is another rough equivalent in that FIFA also banned the "snood" recently, which had become popular with some players in cold weather this winter. The argument was that someone could be strangled with it. Perhaps they imagine the same with the hejab.

But I never accepted the argument about the snood either: for a start, to actually be strangled, someone would have to hold onto it for quite a long time without anyone else noticing, which is hard to imagine. It is also very close fitting, so it would take a freak accident or very deliberate assault to get your hand inside the other player's snood and pull! What's more, a shirt with a normal round collar could also cause pressure on the neck and is far more likely to be pulled. So how is a snood, or hejab, more dangerous than a shirt?

Also, many players wear hair nets, hair bands and caps already. Isn't a hair band more dangerous than a bracelet or a snood? A garrotte in the waiting? Isn't a hair net much the same as a close-fitting hejab?

If the snood were really a risk, the simple solution would be to perforate or weaken part of it so that it would tear easily if tugged hard (Velcro anyone?). Isn't all that exactly the same with a head covering? And if I can think that solution up in thirty seconds, couldn't anyone at FIFA (or in Iran?). Of course.

So why did FIFA really ban the snood? Simple: for the same reason as they refused to look at goal line technology for so long. They don't like change. They didn't like the look of the snood, and they don't like the look of hejab.

As well as the hairdo vanity-wear, players are allowed to wear goggles for their eyesight, cheekbone protectors with straps around the head, or padded helmets with a chin strap. Peter Cech plays every game with a strong nylon strap across his neck to support a helmet that protects a previous head injury. And as a goalkeeper, he's more likely to get into a tangle than anyone.

So there are plenty of exceptions, but only for "protection". Or bad eyesight. Or just bad hair. Just not to protect from the cold (although gloves and tights are both allowed). But the protection being refused here is the right to protect a woman's own definition of her modesty.

That, FIFA, is a shame, so think again. Forget about how annoying the Iranian Government are. Being annoyed with them is perfectly normal. But think of half a billion girls who might be turned off the game or excluded from it, for no good reason at all, the loss to the game and its revenues, and find a solution now. It's not difficult, you just have to want it.

Anonymous said...

Exellent article , but sometimes immuture compromise may lead to unfortunate abuse by either side . Sports' competition are must for both men & women and long term compromise should be reached within Int'l sports body .

best regards