The Iranian women’s soccer/football team was banned from playing in an Olympic qualifier match, ending their hopes of competing in the 2012 Olympics. The reason, says the Guardian, was because of their uniforms, which, in accordance with Islamic dress code, requires that their bodies be fully covered, including their hair. The Iranian football team’s uniform, with long-sleeve and long-pants tracksuits, neck warmers and head coverings, breaks FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) rules, according to a football federation official, a Bahraini national.
The AFP reports that, following the official’s decision, photos of the Iranian women’s team players in team standing around their country’s flag were shown on Iranian TV.
These are FIFA’s rules for the 2012 Olympics:
“Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.”
Last April, the Iranian women’s team was banned from FIFA competition due to its wearing headscarves. The head of women’s affairs at Iran’s football federation said the country had made changes to the uniforms and “believed it had been given the approval of the world federation and of its president, Sepp Blatter.” Says Farideh Shojaei, a board member of the Football Federation of the Republic of Iran:
“We made the required corrections and played a match afterwards. We played the next round and were not prevented from doing so, and they didn’t find anything wrong. That meant that there are no obstacles in our path, and that we could participate in the Olympics.”
“[The Iran football federation chief Ali] Kafashian took it to Fifa and showed it to Sepp Blatter. And they proved that this conduct conforms to the fourth article of the Fifa constitution, which says [a kit should be] devoid of politics or religion. In reality, this kit is neither religious, nor political, nor will it lead to harm a player. They proved this, and Sepp Blatter accepted this and we participated in the Olympics.”
The team was told it could not play just moments before the qualifier match against Jordan last week, says the Guardian. They were given a 3-0 defeat in their unplayed game against Amman.
FIFA is standing by its decision, saying that the players were wearing the hijab, the traditional Islmaic headscarf:
“Fifa’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable.
“Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the Laws of the Game. The match commissioner and match referee therefore decided to apply correctly the Laws of the Game, which ended in the match being abandoned.”
AFP says that Iran is planning to file a formal complaint. Iran’s top official in charge of women sports, Marzieh Akbarabadi, says that the ban by the Bahraini FIFA official was politically motivated:
“In reality, the Bahraini referee who banned the Iranian team from playing took advantage of an international event to benefit his own country,” she said in an allusion to a recent diplomatic showdown between Tehran and Manama.
Predominantly Shiite Iran has been a vocal critic of the recent crackdown on Shiite protesters in Bahrain by their Sunni rulers, who in turn have accused Tehran of meddling and fanning confessional unrest in the tiny Gulf island.
Last year in the US, a 12-year-old Muslim girl, Maheen Haq, was at first benched from playing on her Maryland basketball team because she was wearing a hijab, but then then allowed to play, says ABC2news. There have also been reports in the past couple of years about Muslim girls not being allowed to play football in Canada, again because they were wearing the hijab.
But might banning female athletes who wear the headscarf from competing in events actually be denying them the opportunity for an important experience, for empowerment?
Photo of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games Football, Iran vs Turkey, by مانفی (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons