Hijab ban pushes women to the sidelines

Sport is linked with education, employment and empowerment. So it’s deplorable that FIFA has banned the Iran girls’ football team from the Youth Olympics, says Katherine Azmeh.

In a mind-boggling announcement, the girls’ football team of Iran has effectively been banned from participating in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore later this year. The charge: wearing the Islamic headscarf.

FIFA, the world governing body for football, upheld the headscarf ban following a review undertaken at the request of Iran’s national Olympic committee. The ruling is apparently based on a stipulation in football’s international rule book that states “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements”.

Really, FIFA?

While uniform rules for adolescents are certainly important, let’s look to another set of ‘rules’ as a point of comparison over the headscarf ruling.

In the US, Title IX of the Education Amendments law of 1972 stated that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.

One of the main impacts of the law was that federally funded US schools and colleges became obliged to provide the same sporting opportunities for girls as they do for boys. And nearly four decades later, economists have compiled extensive and convincing data to illustrate that increasing girls’ participation in sport has a direct and positive effect on their development.

So much stands to be gained by encouraging young women to pursue athletic prowess and competition: self-esteem, better health, education and employment. Studies have found that it leads to personal empowerment, tolerance, and sportsmanship.

There is no reason to believe these benefits would not be felt in Iran. Encouraging Muslim girls to engage in international athletic competitions suggests to them that personal power, discipline, and accomplishment can be fully realized whatever their religious, political, or societal background.

But the world’s governing body for football thinks that the minutiae of the uniform rules should trump all that. What a shame.

Source: http://www.kippreport.com/2010/04/hijab-ban-pushes-women-to-the-sidelines/?bnr=

Iran protests hijab ban for soccer team

ZURICH, Switzerland, April 6 (UPI) -- Iran has asked the international bodies governing soccer and the Olympics to end a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves by female players.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association, based in Zurich, said Monday the Thai women's soccer team would replace the Iranian team at the Youth Olympics in August, The Daily Telegraph reported. The Iranian team was banned because its players wear headscarves or hijabs during games.

In a letter to FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, Bahram Arsharzadeh, secretary-general of the Iranian Olympic Committee, said the rule effectively bars Iranian women from international sport. Many Muslims believe women, once they reach puberty, should not go out in public with uncovered heads.

"We have asked the heads of these international sports organizations to review and annul FIFA's decision," Afsharzadeh said. "Hijab is related to the Islamic culture and Muslim women can't take part in social activities without it."

Source: http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/2010/04/06/Iran-protests-hijab-ban-for-soccer-team/UPI-82861270602868/

Girls in the hood cry foul over hijab ban


April 7, 2010

FOOTBALL clubs fear that a decision by the sport's world governing body to ban Islamic head scarves will trickle down to the local level.

The Iran girls' football team has been kicked out of the Youth Olympic Games because FIFA ruled that wearing a hijab was not in accordance with laws of the game relating to on-field equipment.

The president of Lakemba Sport and Recreation Club, Jamal Rifi, said: ''It's extremely disappointing, especially because we're trying to encourage local females to play sport, head scarf or no head scarf. It's a smack in the face for all the hard work we have been doing.

''It's not an occupational hazard and it's definitely not a sporting hazard. The number of Muslim girls playing soccer at an elite level is already very few. To restrict these few females achieving at a high level, it's very demoralising.''

The number of girls' football teams in the club has risen from one to five in the past four years, which Dr Rifi said was a direct result of opening the sport up to players ''from all religions, races and cultures''.

Two girls playing at state level had the potential to represent Australia, he said.

''It is going to trickle down and will give justification to local associations to use that excuse at the grassroots level.''

FIFA's rules state players may not wear jewellery or dangerous headgear such as hair clips, and that ''basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements''.

Football Federation Australia's and Football NSW's interpretation of the rules allow hijabs to be worn if they made from a special elastic material.

The chief executive of Blacktown and District Soccer Football Association, Jack Taylor, said the ruling was ''bullshit''. He hoped Football NSW and the FFA would take little notice of it.

''Our numbers are growing because of the way we've made all women welcome.

''To say, 'Sorry, you can't play football because you're wearing a hijab,' is really discriminatory.''

At a time when Australia is bidding for the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup and is about to embark on its third World Cup finals campaign in South Africa, the president of East Bankstown Football Club, Roger Silvera, believes the FFA might feel pressure to fall in line with FIFA's ruling. ''With football becoming really strong in this country, we don't want to put anyone offside,'' he said.

''But we're trying to compete with rugby league, Aussie rules and all these other winter sports so the FFA will have to decide whether they're prepared to lose those players to other sports.''

A spokesman for the FFA said it was aware of the FIFA decision and would discuss it before making its own ruling.

The general manager of Football NSW, Ian Holmes, said he did not wish to see any barrier placed in the way of participation but would follow the FFA's decision.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/football/girls-in-the-hood-cry-foul-over-hijab-ban-20100406-rpj0.html


Hijab ban belongs in the sin bin

When soccer's world governing body FIFA banned Muslim headscarves from competition, a shudder went through Sydney's all-female football team, the Lakembaroos.

The hijab ban has already this week forced the Iran girls' soccer squad out of the first summer Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore in October. So there were fears the ban could spread to Australian football.

''It is a big slap in the face. I don't understand it and I don't want to understand it,'' the 24-year-old hijab-wearing Lakembaroos coach, Hiba Ayache, said yesterday on her way to psychology classes at the University of Western Sydney. ''Soccer means a lot to us.'' She says that while playing soccer in a hijab is more difficult than playing bare-headed, there are no safety concerns as for other activities, tragically demonstrated on Thursday when a young Sydney mother was strangled after her hijab reportedly became entangled in the wheel of a go-kart she was driving.

Ayache and three other women in her all-age team wear headscarves, and she said they would be forced out of the competition they won last year if the hijab were banned. She says her teammates, many of them Christian, have told her they would refuse to play, out of solidarity. Instead they would form their own private team.

But no such drastic action is necessary, as Australian sport moved immediately to reject any hijab ban. Jim Forrest, president of Football NSW, issued a statement this week, condemning reports of FIFA's banning of the Iranian girls' team as ''a serious act of discrimination and … we want no part of it''. Dr Jamal Rifi, a Bankstown GP and president of the Lakemba Sport and Recreation Club, says he is ''heartened by support given us by local, state and national sporting organisations … The only good thing that came out of this was it showed how much maturity we have as citizens.'' He says banning the hijab would mean condemning girls to their own surroundings and never interacting with others. ''The girls don't regard the hijab as a cultural symbol or a political symbol. It is a religious obligation. They have no choice [but to wear it].''

Australia may so far be immune but moves to ban the hijab, burqa and other forms of Muslim clothing are on the increase in Europe. France has already banned the hijab in public schools and is currently considering a ban on the niqab and burqa in all public places.

In Belgium a law banning burqas in on the table and the Netherlands is considering one.

A Financial Times survey across Europe found a majority supports similar bans, with support weakest in Germany at 50 per cent and strongest in France (70 per cent), which has the largest Muslim population in Europe. President Nicolas Sarkozy has framed the debate in terms of feminist rights, with French security concerns of burqa-wearing terrorists having been ridiculed.

But it is not for the state to force emancipation on to women. If anything, banning hijabs and burqas just subjects Muslim women to further subjugation, forcing them indoors, alienating them from wider society, causing resentment among their children and ensuring future disharmony.

The Iranian girls' soccer team had managed to break out of the constrictions of their faith, their culture and their veil to win a place at the Youth Olympics. How must they feel now, having been replaced by a Thai team, thanks to the decision of faceless men at FIFA headquarters in Zurich? What choice did any of them have about wearing the veil?

Where they come from, police cars park outside shopping malls ready to pounce on women whose hijab is deemed not modest enough. It's not as if Iran's mullahs and secret police will suddenly say, ''oh, fine, take off your veil and play''. The real reason for the popularity of the bans in Europe is less about feminism and more about politicians trying to mollify a populace angered by the Islamisation of their countries due to immigration and a higher Muslim birthrate. Switzerland's recent ban on minarets signifies anti-Muslim sentiment. But it would be more honest to call a halt to Muslim migration rather than victimising powerless women.

That would be no less offensive and xenophobic than treating your own citizens as second class while posing as their emancipators. In any case, such illiberality in liberal democracies is destined to backfire because it eventually spreads in pursuit of equality. A ban on the hijab or burqa soon becomes a ban on the wearing of religious symbols of any kind. Thus the European Court of Human Rights last year banned the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy.

Jamal Rifi has worked hard to involve girls in sport. Five years ago his club had one girls' soccer team. This year there are five.

''We embarked on a mission to get more kids out of their shell on to the playing fields, particularly girls. But it wasn't easy.'' There was resistance from parents and the cost was prohibitive for many families, who include recently arrived migrants and refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Many don't have cars, so getting the children to and from games was a challenge. ''We had to overcome many hurdles, convince Mum and Dad we would provide a safe environment and provide very, very cheap registration, subsidised by the local business community,'' says Rifi, a Lebanese-born father of five.

This year parents are struggling to pay even the subsidised fees and the club has had to reduce player numbers from 400 to 150. But Rifi perseveres because, as he says, sport is about more than just playing a game.

''It teaches young people about being part of a team … We believe playing sport will not just impact on these young people's lives but on the Australian community in the future.'' It's good that a small thing like wearing a hijab won't interfere with such a big idea.


Source: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/hijab-ban-belongs-in-the-sin-bin-20100409-rynr.html