After 20 years, FIBA decides Muslim female athletes can wear hijabs during games.
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has made a long-awaited decision concerning religious headgear, and fans around the world are celebrating. Up until this year, FIBA banned hijabs, turbans, and yarmulkes during competition, citing safety concerns for the athletes. The unanimous vote this past month lifts the ban, clearing the path for more and more people to play basketball.
The fight to lift the ban has been years in the making and has been championed by many organizations and individuals across the globe. A few years ago, American-Muslim basketball player Indira Kajlo emerged as the cause’s mouthpiece, campaigning for FIBA to overturn its 20-year-old rule. Kajlo corralled support from women in the U.S., Sweden, Turkey, India, and the U.K. For Kajlo, the campaign was deeply personal. Upon deciding to wear a hijab, Kajlo had to give up her career and passion as a professional basketball player. Most recently, on the heels of Kajlo’s campaign and online petition, new organizations joined the fight. Athlete Ally, an anti-discrimination organization, partnered with Shirzanan, an advocacy organization for Muslim women, teamed up to pen a letter to FIBA which was signed by more than two dozen prominent athletes.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Muslim female athletes have had to decide between faith and sports. Still, progress is being made across all sports to loosen restrictions and respect religious freedoms. FIBA’s ruling will go into effect in October 2017. It requires the headgear be black, or the same color of the uniform, and it cannot cover any part of the face or have securing elements around the face or neck.
Nonprofits and athletes are not the only ones to have weighed in on this issue. A month before the ruling came down, Nike debuted its first sport hijab with a poignant campaign around equal access to sport. Unquestionably, both Nike and FIBA are late to the game to support Muslim athletes, but nevertheless, overturning the rule is monumental for women’s basketball. Salim al-Mutawa'a, head of the United Arab Emirates' basketball association, explained, “When other Arab women see a Muslim playing professionally, that encourages them to play as well. There's no reason for them not to play now; nothing is stopping them.” Instead of worrying about a uniform, Muslim female basketball players can focus on their craft and pursuing the many opportunities that basketball can provide.
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