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Change through football

Monday, April 14, 2014
Fifa has revoked the ban on the wearing of religious headwear by female and male players.

After receiving increasing calls from several quarters, FIFA at its March 1 annual general meeting (AGM), approved the recommendations of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to revoke the ban on the wearing of religious headwear by female and male players. 


Appeals for the change gained momentum in 2011 from the Iranian authorities and supported by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) through FIFA vice president Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein and the United Nations. The decision paves the way for Muslim women to wear the hijab, Sikhs to wear the turban and Jewish players to wear the kippah without fear of any rule violation. 


In addition to the lifting of the headwear ban, Law 4—The Players’ Equipment—was also amended to regulate the wearing garments of players. For instance, Law 4 now categorically states that players’ outer and inner garments must not bear any kind of political, religious or marketing messages or slogan.


According to the IFAB this new ruling will allow for consistent regulations. Failure to do so will result in the sanctioning of the team. Players and referees would no longer be allowed to wear any form of jewelry (necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, leather etc.). Additionally, covering of jewelry is forbidden. 


The modifications of the laws of the game would come into effect on 1st June 2014 in time for the FIFA 2014 World Cup which starts June 13th.


The issue of the hijab surfaced in 2007 when 11-year-old Asamahan Mansour of Ottawa was banned by the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) who cited that the headwear could have resulted in choking and even strangulation. FIFA banned the hijab in 2007. The ban was linked to similar concerns held by the QSF of potential head, neck and even choking injuries. 


The QSF was suspended by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) for its stance of preventing male Sikh players wearing their turbans on the field of play. The QSF lifted their ban when they were informed that the ban did not apply to male players.


In 2011, the Iranian women’s team dream of participating in the 2012 London Olympics were dashed because they were prevented from playing their second round qualifier against Jordan by the FIFA referee. They were denied because all their players wear hijab. In addition to being denied the opportunity to play, insult was added when Jordan were awarded the game 3-0. The Iranian authorities threatened to file a complaint to FIFA against the Bahrani official. 


The change in Law 4 vindicates Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein effort toward correcting what he deemed an unfair prejudice against women wearing the hijab. He claimed there were no reported cases of injuries from wearing the hijab. He cited that, if Chelsea’s Petr Cech is allowed to wear a protective cap for head injuries sustained then the case for allowing the hijab and other headwear is inevitably justified.


Given the issue of wearing the hijab was controversial in other quarters, the IFAB on the request of the AFC allowed a trial period of two years. The trial proved to be successful as there were no direct links between wearing head wear and the injury concerns that were raised. Additionally, the availability of new designs of Velcro pin-less headscarf supported the lifting of the ban. Once agreed upon it is recommended that the head wear should be the same colour of the team jersey. 


Jordan’s hosting of the 2016 women’s Under-17 World Cup and multicultural Canada hosting the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup would have weighed heavily in rescinding the previous ban. It would have been very embarrassing to FIFA if some of the teams such as Iran qualified for both these tournaments and were prevented from playing because of the previous ban! 


Additionally, FIFA was under mounting pressure to review its law on religious head wear as other sporting disciplines such as judo, weightlifting, fencing, taekwondo and rugby allow Muslim women to participate with hijabs in competition including the 2012 London Olympics. Taekwondo and rugby are very physical sports with the possibility of more frequent body contact than football!


The decision to allow for religious head wear has been applauded by many including the Quebec Soccer Federation and United Sikhs of Canada who hold on to the hope that this change will spread off the football field and into other social spaces. For instance, in countries such as France where bans have been placed on religious wear in public schools and public buildings.


Some Arab football officials have been expressing great optimism that the change will attract more women into football. If more Muslim women in the world including the Caribbean begin to play football without fear of being victimised because of their modesty in attire then sport would have again played a role in providing an important social space for engagement without discrimination. What is the position of the TTFF or TTFA?


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