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FIFA has lifted its ban on the Muslim headscarves (the hijab) for women soccer players on Thursday following a decision made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
The initial concern with the use of the hijab is the safety regulations in which the garment was not recognized as part of the usual laws of the game. It was said that the hijab presents a real danger of choking if worn while playing. The unanimous overturn on the ban, however, was made after reports from FIFA’s medical officer citing the removal of safety and medical issues surrounding the headscarves.
The issue was first addressed via the AFC’s Women’s Committee, and was later taken up by Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, the vice president of FIFA.
The ban was heavily criticized and has been labeled as ‘inequality at the highest level of the world’s most popular game.’ Last year at the 2012 Olympics qualifying match, Iran’s women’s soccer team was prevented from playing their match against Jordan after the team members refused to remove their hijab prior to kickoff.
Despite being at the top of their group in the first qualifying rounds, their dreams to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics was abruptly shattered after given a 3-0 defeat as punishment.
Other sports, like taekwondo and rugby, allows its women participants to don the hijab, and after careful re-consideration, new hijab designs are now in production for women soccer players. Secured with velcro, experts have confirmed that the new design eliminates neck injuries, and thus the safety issues that initiated the ban.
Though in this case the ban was health and safety related, this latest development signifies another victory for what has been an ongoing battle for Muslim women around the world fighting to keep the headwear on. The wearing of the Islamic veil has sparked numerous debates on the so-called oppression of the women wearing it, though most admit to wearing it by choice. FIFA’s lifting of the ban has also opened up doors for other sportswomen in the Arab world and other Islamic countries who were previously unable to compete because of the ban.
With the recent news of the first Saudi female Olympian participating in the games, more women from other conservative Islamic countries are also now looking forward to participating in world class sporting competitions without having to sacrifice their identities as Muslims and foregoing their rights to practice their religious teaching.
Yusef Abdallah, the head of the United Arab Emirates’s Football Federation stated, “Women will from now on have the chance to practice this sport with religious respect.”
Despite the green light from FIFA, the French Football Federation (FFF) still refuses to authorize players to wear the veil while representing France or playing in any of its organized competitions on the grounds that sports “must continue to promote equality of the sexes.” France has been a strong advocate of the burqa ban, another Muslim headwear, arguing that it encroaches on individual freedoms.