"Soccer with Scarves": An Article By Bloomergirls Blog

Last week marked a big win for Muslim women in the soccer world. Soccer (football/futbol/le foot – we’re American, so we’re going to keep calling it soccer) has been grappling with a headscarf policy since the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of international soccer, banned them in women’s soccer in 2007. After the officials of an Olympic qualifying match last June determined that the headscarves worn as part of the Iranian team’s uniform broke the FIFA dress code, the Iranians withdrew from the match. The withdrawal prevented them from advancing despite having won all of their previous qualifying matches.

Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, a FIFA Vice President, stated that he thought Muslim women were being driven away from soccer because of the ban. He vowed to fight it, stating “I think that football, being the most popular sport in the world, accessible to all, we should take the lead on this issue and therefore that is what we are trying to pursue and hopefully we will get a pass from [the board].”

It might be useful to distinguish between the gear that the Iranian women were trying to wear, and some of the other religious coverings that Muslim women wear. (Mostly this is useful for me as an education – I freely admit that this post has been a learning process about Muslim dress.) A hijab, which is essentially what the Iranian women’s soccer team wishes to wear, is a traditional headscarf that can look something like this:

From flickr user zharif: http://www.flickr.com/people/zharif/
The word hijab is often translated as “separation,” and can be used to describe the general practice of dressing modestly in front of men. In some countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women are required to wear the hijab in public. It is different from the chador, which is a semicircle of fabric worn over the head and shoulders and held closed, and the burqa, an enveloping garment that covers the entire body. Wearing a hijab doesn’t impede movement, especially not the kind of movement required to play soccer.

Because of the country’s regulation that all women must wear the hijab, it wasn’t an option for the Iranian women to play without it. The modified hijab worn by the Iranian women covered their ears and necks, and looked like this:

Members of the Iranian Women's Soccer Team
FIFA originally objected to these hijabs for “safety concerns,” but no one could really figure out why these hijabs, which were cut close to the body, were any different or any more unsafe than having long hair. From a completely uneducated perspective, looking at the pictures of the hijab, it seems like there would be absolutely no impediment to movement, peripheral vision, or anything else. Additionally, since women’s soccer is, ahem, more clean than men’s soccer, the likelihood of the hijab getting caught on something was pretty much nil.

The FIFA ban did the same thing that the hijab bans in France and Turkey have done: prevent women from making an autonomous choice. Whether or not you agree with the Muslim edicts of wearing hijabs/chadors/burqas, forcing women to do either prevents them from making these very personal choices themselves. (I say this from the perspective of disagreeing with both rules that force women to wear the hijab and rules that prohibit them from wearing it.) While the FIFA ban made it impossible for Iranian women, who are forced to wear the scarves, to play in their match, it also prevented women from other countries who might personally choose to wear the scarf from playing. Either way, it was an unnecessary restrictive measure.

On Saturday, Prince Ali presented plans for a safer hijab secured with velcro to the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the ultimate law-making body for FIFA. The IFAB unanimously approved the proposed hijab, and they are hoping to have an acceptable design in place for the 2014 World Cup. This is good news for women’s sports participants and fans everywhere: the more people that want to play, the more opportunities we’ll need to create.
Source: http://www.bloomergirlsblog.com/?p=91