Soccer Rules Board Overturns Hijab Ban March 4, 2012

Soccer Rules Board Overturns Hijab Ban

It really frustrates me when religious people choose to deny themselves an activity that they enjoy because society won’t accommodate their restrictions, which have zero basis in reality. (The fact that they then tend to get angry about everyone else being stubborn and inflexible is just the icing on the frustration-cake.)

But when inclusiveness costs as little as changing the start time of a basketball game, or allowing Muslim soccer players to wear hijabs, my sympathies tend to err in that direction. This is particularly true when one considers that many Muslim women face daunting social (and sometimes legal) repercussions for defying the rules of their religion.

On Saturday, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan — who is an executive committee member of FIFA — convinced the eight-member International Football Association Board (IFAB) to reconsider an earlier decision banning female players from wearing hijabs. The ban was based on a rule prohibiting “political, religious, or personal statements” on player equipment.

Iran's team took the field for an Olympics qualifier in 2011 and were forced to forfeit.

A New York Times article on the Prince’s attempt to overturn the ban quotes a pair of players, one from Iran and one from Jordan:

“Either we take it off or we don’t play, and obviously no one will take it off,” said Katayoun Khosrowyar, 24, who plays as a central midfielder for the Iranian team. “We went on the field, started training, and then when the first five seconds of the match went, the referee blew the whistle saying we can’t play anymore, we have to forfeit.”


“Suddenly I got a message that I can’t play, so it’s like my dream stopped,” [Reema Ramounieh, former goalkeeper for Jordan’s national team] said. “You know I had to go out. I started crying and I went out to the field. The coach told me that we don’t need you anymore so thank you, you can go outside and maybe you can play with the ball on the side. So it was like my dream, it’s done because I’m wearing a headscarf.”

IFAB also cited safety concerns in the initial headscarf ban, but Prince Ali’s Saturday presentation recommended a safer Velcro version. The Prince, whose wife Rym Ali does not wear a hijab, stated that “There is a right for women’s play regardless of any other issues, and we are simply trying to find the best way to facilitate that.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anonymous

    Fair enough, it leaves the field clear for rational people!

  • Giving flexibility to players doesn’t really hurt, so why not. But why give up this bargining chip for nothing? Make the applicant country first prove that the women are wearing it willingly and will not face any legal repercussions if they chose not to wear it. I would be more willing to compromise if it was a hanful of players who were wearing the scarf in the photo, when it is every player that is suspecious of an edict from on high, and that is not the type of situation I’d bow down to.

  •  It would make a lot more sense if the men’s teams had the same restrictions. Or maybe less sense, depending on your point of view.

  •  The problem with this is that if the women do face legal repercussions for not wearing it, you’ve just gone and excluded all the female athletes in a country from competing. Which is pretty damn unfair, if you ask me.

  • But if the women aren’t wearing the scarves willingly, how exactly does it help them to refuse to allow them to play soccer too?

  • I’ve never like arbitrary rules of any sort. Is it wrong for women to be coerced to wear hijabs? Yes. Is it wrong for FIFA to tell the women not to play? I’d say so. I doubt there are any legitimate safety concerns involved.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see how wearing one hinders the game in any way

  • Anonymous

    This sort of thing is a tough call for me.

    On the one hand, you have the fact that the jihab is honestly causing no interference for playing the sport. The safety concern strikes me as almost certainly trumped up and in any case easy enough to adapt to. If we’re really honest the reason there is such resistance to allowing the jihab it’s because those of us in western society consider it a very distasteful symbol of female subjugation. We don’t like it, and we tend to doubt the protestations of it being voluntary. I’m not saying that these concerns aren’t entirely valid (I share them), but refusing to acknowledge that this is a part of the thinking in these issues strikes me as somewhat dishonest.

    On the other hand, there is the matter of fairness and special treatment. Lets pretend for a moment that all female world class athletes who hail from Muslim countries truly and honestly feel that they should wear the jihab (I don’t buy it for an instant). Even allowing for that, why should the sincerely held religious beliefs of one person be held above those of another? Why shouldn’t the Christians be allowed prominent crosses? Why shouldn’t the Sihks be allowed turbans?

    The only reason this belief is being accomodated is that there is an unspoken knowledge that these women would not be allowed to play without their jihabs. We assume, because of their gender and religion, that they are not allowed the same freedom of choice as a truly free human. Thus, we are willing to make a “small” accomodation so that the men who actually decide if they play or not will allow them to.

    In doing this, and in playing along with the little theater where we all pretend that this is not a special accomodation based on pity, we perpetuate the situation where women are denied a full freedom of choice. On the other hand, if we staunchly refuse, the end result will be that these women are forced to stay home and not play, which can hardly be spun as a blow in favor of their freedom. Like I said, a tough call.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah I am on the fence about this one. I don’t think FIFA should exclude them from playing. I think its unfair. But then again, I think it’s unfair that they have to wear head covering. I am sure like most Muslim women I know in the U.S., if given the opportunity, most of them take it off. I think Jordan should do the same. 

  • Tim

    A good post Claudia.  I tend to agree with you that these women should be allowed to play if there if they can cover their hair without causing a safety issue.  I would make the consession, but not with a happy heart.

    Just an asside, but if it is the sight of female hair that turns men into lust monsters unable to control themselves (something I find offensive as a man – I like a woman with pretty hair for sure, but I do know how to behave myself)  would they be OK to play with shaven heads?  (which can be sexy too)

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how many teams would play if the rules said that women’s beach volleyball prohibited wearing clothing above the waist.  Aren’t all non-safety-related clothing rules silly?

  • God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh

  • Edwin

    as i understand it the  hijabs are not fastened only folded in ,same as a turban, so if they came loose during a collision between players that would be a safety problem, but if they could be velcro fastened in place then the problem would not exist.

  •  Make it a condition of a country submitting any team, male or female. Either men and women can play qithout discrimination, or no one can play. Then the country can choose between sex equality, or not letting men play with a ball. It would be an interesting dilemma at least.

  •  Because then it is not the international federation preventing them playing, it is their own country. You don’t play their game, you tell them the rules that exist if they want to play your game.  It worked on South Africa, who suffered under a lot of sporting boycotts because of apartheid. But it makes sense to hit them where it hurts, and include men’s sports in the boycott.

  •  Agreed

  • — would they be OK to play with shaven heads?

    I asked this all the time when I was in Armenia (the Christian Churches there enforce headscarfs on women). I was told off for mocking their beliefs, but it still seems legitimate to me (as does mocking)

  • Anonymous

     Why should that be a safety issue? How could that hurt anyone? At most it’s annoying if they come off all the time. But if it happens now and then, they can just put them back on

  • Achess

    Sport should be neutral: no crosses, no turbans, no hijabs, no religion, no exceptions.

  • Anonymous

    If you cover up one part, something else becomes alluring. Look through pictures of women wearing the Niqab (that also covers the lower front of the face). You’ll notice that it can bring out the eyes, which can be very attractive. Allegedly, in Victorian Britain showing some ankle was considered scandalous.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Unfortunately, all I can think is, “All this fuss over a piece of cloth? Should a piece of any material not covered in writing really have so much impact on anyone’s life?”

  • Gunstargreen

    Like most others have said here here, on one hand excluding them is wrong and unfortunate but  on the other hand the practice itself is ridiculous.

  • Beckyjk

    I think this makes a great deal of sense.  Tell these countries that have gender apartheid that if they want to have these rules for the women and want to participate in international sports their men are going to have to follow the same rules as they require for their women. 

    If their women are not allowed to participate, then their men can’t participate. If their women have to wear certain clothes, then their men have to wear the same exact clothing they require the women to wear.

  • Anonymous

     There’s another user (The Godless Monster) who is a former Muslim and more qualified to answer this question. It’s my understanding that Islamic culture considers long hair to be a very important symbol of femininity. You can’t show non-relative/husband men your hair, but your hair is really important, so shaving it would be unacceptable.

    However, you aren’t too far off in the strategy department. Ultraorthodox Jewish women are also mandated to cover their hair. Most do it with a snood (very much like a jihab), but it’s not unknown for ultraorthodox women to cut their hair short and use a wig. I’ve seen this on a rabbi’s wife on one occasion.

  • I’m guessing it’s going to be a long time before we see a Jordanian or Iranian women’s beach volleyball team.

    (In beach volleyball, women, but not men, are required to wear ridiculously skimpy outfits)

  • Anonymous

    As a lust monster, I find your post highly offensive.

  • Ikkyu

    What people have failed to mention is the role those women could play with respect to changing their culture. Right now we all agree they are oppressed by their culture.
    But how can the position of women change without strong female role models?  If we don’t allow women the few positive positions in which the could serve as models for their society because at this moment the conditions are far from perfect how do you expect things to change?
    If other countries are perceived as “culturally insensitive” and oppressing their countries religion we just create a “circle the wagons” mentality. 
    If they are allowed to freely participate they will be influenced by the experience and bring  that back with them. And a seed will grow among many women that will say if they can play without a hijab why cant we?  And blame would fall on their culture.
    Banning the Hijab places the blame on foreigners this actually strengthens the case for the oppressors. 

  • T-Rex

    They aren’t required to wear a particular kind bathing suit. They choose to wear it. Big difference there.

  • MariaO

    I was thinking the same. And it is equally offensive to force(!) a woman to dress as sexily as possible as to force them to cover everything up!

  • No.  I know it sounds crazy, but there are restrictions on the size of the the bikini.  And yes, exceptions have been made

    For the official rules, see pages 40 and 42 here

    Bottom line, the women are required to wear a uniform that is substantially more revealing than the men’s.

  • maddy

    The “safety” arguement is so bogus! Look at the women in the picture! Their scarves are as inoffensive and well-fastened-looking as the “do-rags” some American men wear playing football. They are hardly running around the field wearing chadors.
    And, yes, I think the bikinis the womens’ volleyball team wears ARE regulated as to the tiny size. It’s really sadly degrading to make wearing something so revealing a condition, or even tradition for a sport, while the men get to wear regular shorts.

  • Georgina

    “so it’s like my dream stopped”
    They are not required to ‘wear a headscarf’ they are required to ‘cover their hair’.
    So if football is so important to you – shave it off!
    I would, then one can go out in society, start a new trend:
    “You won’t let us be free, our hair offends/excites you? This is our solution.

    Except I don’t actually like football, but if I was told that I may not cover my hair at work & at the same time that I may not show my hair at work, I would shave it off.
    And no doubt look even uglier than I do already. 

  • Caroline (Muslim Revert)

    This is just an
    attack on womens right end of!


    What is hijab?

    is one of the righteous deeds and it is a sign of honour and equality with men
    and stands as a shield of protection against evil man – their thoughts and
    action (Please note: Evil MAN, and NOT all men). This proves in the real world today – Women without the shield of protection (Hijab) are
    unprotected and can lead to an assault, which takes place all the time around
    the world – rape and sexual harassment!


    There are two types
    of people from religious background (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc);
    either you make your lord as your no.1 priority then the world, or the world
    come 1st then your lord. Katayoun Khosrowyar, 24, Central midfielder for the Iranian team
    stated, “Either we take it off or we don’t play, and obviously no one will take
    it off.”  – They decided to sacrifice their
    happiness because the Fifa had made them choose to either please their lord or
    them with or without intention. The Creator of all the mankind will surely be happy for Katayoun’s and her teams act
    to refuse to play without the hijab.


    Equality in
    Islam (Please do not confuse the CULTURE of a Nation with Islam):

    (SWT) has given equal rights to both men and women; He forbids either sex
    claiming supremacy over the other.

    Allah (SWT)
    states in Holy Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of
    a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know
    each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of
    you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah
    has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Holy Qur’an


    Muslim women are
    oppressed in few Muslim countries because men in those countries IGNORE the
    teaching of Islam and accept CULTURE more highly. 


  • Greg

    Interestingly enough, the exact same FIFA law in question was used to stop English footballers wearing a shirt with the image of poppies sown in to commemorate Remembrance Day. 

    I actually backed FIFA over that, and got into no end of arguments with fellow football supporters about it, but this exemption has lost my backing to FIFA over the incident. Looks like religion gets special treatment again.
    And for those saying it is an arbitrary law, it isn’t. It’s a law specifically designed to prevent religious, political or personal statements. Just like that law your American Football seems to have regarding bible verses in eye black. The point is to avoid turning sport into a political/religious minefield. FIFA wishes to stay impartial as a body, and just like Separation of State with religion in the US, the best way to do that is not to be seen to endorse any one viewpoint.

    You can argue about whether the law is valid, but to claim it is arbitrary is factually wrong.

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