In the same week that U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her Women's World Cup initiative, aimed at empowering girls and women around the world through sports, comes news that FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, has disqualified the Iranian women's team from their Olympic qualifying match for showing up to play wearing the hijab.
With the two announcements, it seems it is one step forward for women's sport, and two steps back.
As the Iranian players and officials tearfully objected, they were told that they had violated FIFA rules that state, "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."
Apparently, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) does not ban hijab. But it is FIFA that runs the soccer part of the Olympics and they also claim the ban on the Islamic scarf is for safety reasons. The Iranian FA, however, requires that its athletes compete in hijab putting Iran's female soccer players in the middle of a hot debate and setting them up for disappointment. Iran also had to forfeit a second group match against Vietnam on Sunday, seriously damaging its chances of advancing to the London Olympics.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted FIFA officials describing them as “colonialists” and "dictators". Mustafa Musleh Zadeh, Iran’s ambassador to Jordan, went further by saying the ban was “inhumane” and “politically motivated.”
FIFA officials have defended their refusal to allow the players to wear head scarves but not suprisingly there is no mention of the incident on their Web site.
For some background on the issue, here is an informative Al Jazeera story about Iran's women's team
Clearly, hijab has a destabilizing effect in relation to FIFA's regulating presence in international women's soccer. In response to the situation, Jennifer Doyle takes a look at a number of academic discussions on the subject and writes on her blog From A Left Wing:
Perhaps one of the reasons why some people can't stand the idea of women playing in headscarves is that images of Muslim women playing this physically demanding sport in hijab challenges a world-view that needs to see the Muslim woman only in terms of radical victimization, and as a completely powerless and passive body.
Farideh Shojai, the head of women's affairs at Iran's football federation, said they had not been informed of any new rules ahead of the Olympic qualifying tournament. She said Iran made changes to its women's kit after FIFA amended its dress code last year. The new outfit, she claimed, was approved by the federation's president, Sepp Blatter, and used in subsequent matches. Since the team was not prevented from playing the next round in the previous tournament, they assumed there were no obstacles for participation in the Olympics.
The issue, it seems, is that FIFA bans so-called "snoods" -- close-fitting headscarves that cover the hair, ears, and neck. The federation allows players to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck. The rule is problematic in that skin remains exposed which violates the women's religious and cultural beliefs.
This is clearly a hot topic, with both sides passionate about their stance. But really FIFA - with all the other scandals and problems on your plate, is this really the line you want to draw in the sand?
Doyle follows up by saying:
When you find yourself almost rooting for Iran's national association you know that something has gone horribly wrong.
To keep updated on the story - follow this thread on Women Talk Sports.
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