I recently joined over 34,000 other people on a Facebook group called Let Us Play, which promotes the idea that women and girls should be allowed to play soccer/football in hijab. Specifically, the group is lobbying the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) prior to a meeting scheduled for March 2012 where they will make a decision on whether the Islamic headscarf is acceptable to wear on the pitch.
I’ve written about this topic before, but the debate reignited today after I posted a news story titled, “Hijab ban ‘turning women off football’“. According to Al-Jazeera, where the story originally appeared, FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin-Hussein of Jordan is urging the sport’s regulating bodies to lift the ban.
“As far as I’m concerned, I want to make sure and guarantee what it is – that football is for everyone,” he said.
Prince Ali is suggesting that the current situation, in which female Muslim players are forced to choose between competing and observing the requirements of their religion, is turning women and girls away from the game.
I agree with the Prince, but not everybody does. I’ve presented my position before, so now I’d like to air out the other side. These are the arguments against lifting the ban that have been presented to me:
1) That religion/religious symbols have no place in sport. This has to do with FIFA’s rule 4 that reads:
“Players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements. A player removing his jersey or shirt to reveal slogans or advertising will be sanctioned by the competition organiser. The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political, religious or personal slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser or by FIFA.” – Rule 4, FIFA Laws of the Game
2) That allowing hijab encourages a sexist culture (Islam). This argument suggests that women and girls wear hijab because they are forced to, and that allowing hijab on the pitch enables the continuation of a sexist paradigm rather than challenging the underlying issue.
3) That a headscarf presents a safety issue on the field. Headscarves could be a choking hazard.
So, what say ye, soccer lovers? Is Rule 4 a vital, immutable part of the game or is it time to revisit it in light these modern issues? Is it more important to provide access to sport (which we know affects self-respect, body image and confidence) or to challenge Islam? Would an accommodation for a special head covering (like the Velcro hijab that Prince Ali will recommend in March) be sufficient from a safety perspective? Does the sporting requirement of uniformity pre-empt such an accommodation? And perhaps most importantly, what are the parameters of the inclusive spirit of football?
Let me hear your opinions in the comments.