Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Ban on headscarf in sport is discriminatory

Members of Nepal's women's basketball team warm up before their Qatari opponents failed to show up due to the hijab ban at the Asian Games. Jason Reed  / Reuters
Members of Nepal's women's basketball team warm up before their Qatari opponents failed to show up due to the hijab ban at the Asian Games. Jason Reed / Reuters

The Qatar women’s national basketball team withdrew from the Asian Games in South Korea on Wednesday after the side were told they would not be allowed to wear the hijab on court. As The National reported yesterday, the team forfeited their group match with Mongolia after falling foul of an International Basketball Federation (Fiba) safety regulation concerning the headscarf. When it became clear that Fiba was unwilling to offer any flexibility towards the Qataris, the team pulled out. At least one player for the Qatar team has since said she had received pre-tournament assurances that the side would be allowed to play wearing the hijab.

Aside from the Qatari team’s disappointment at having to withdraw from a major international sports event – one that only comes around every four years – the incident raises questions about sports administration and the often illogical regulations governing competition.

There is, for instance, no comprehensive ban on the niqab at the Asian Games. Other sports at the event in South Korea – there are medals to be won in 36 different disciplines – allow athletes to cover themselves when competing. There is, indeed, no Fiba ban on the niqab for basketball players in less high-profile competitions than the Asian Games. Furthermore, Fiba will decide next year whether it will relax its current regulations and allow the hijab to be worn at the elite level of the sport. They should be urged to overturn their ban sooner rather than later.

Women who cover their heads for religious reasons should be entitled to participate in international sport free from this kind of regulatory interference. They should not be forced to compromise their beliefs, most particularly in Asia, home to the great majority of the world’s Muslims. And they certainly shouldn’t be required to do so at a sporting event whose motto is “diversity shines here”.

In this regard football, which often appears to drag its administrative heels, is leading the way. The game’s governing body relaxed its headscarf ban in 2012 and has been active in supporting the development of a sports-friendly hijab. Fiba would do well to follow suit.

Updated: September 25, 2014 04:00 AM