By John Duerden, The Diplomat
The ban on the hijab in football has been lifted and as long as the unanimous decision, taken by International Football Association Board this week, is ratified in July, there’s nothing to stop Muslim women going out onto the football pitch and doing what they do best.
Football world governing body FIFA had banned the garment because of safety concerns, especially the possibility of choking, but a new design of hijab has seemingly allayed such fears.
It’s a personal triumph for Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, who is also the vice president of FIFA, following his high-profile campaign to show that the garment wasn’t a religious symbol but a cultural one.
In June 2011, for example, the Iranian women’s team forfeited an Olympic qualifier as they refused to play without hijabs.
“Women’s football has come a long way,” Hussein said in London ahead of the decision. “And the present situation is saying to women worldwide that you’re not allowed to participate for a reason that makes no sense. That’s prejudice. It’s not fair. It has to be dealt with. Long sleeves and leggings are already allowed.”
Many had pointed out that there didn’t seem to be much difference between the garment and the protective headgear worn every week by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The eight-member board, which meets to deliberate rule changes in the game, agreed with Hussein. Six votes were needed, but all eight voted to end the ban as long as it was safe to do so.
Farrah Khan, an activist with Right2Wear, told Canadian media that there was nothing to worry about in that regard.
“It wasn’t about safety precautions. It was more about increasing Islamaphobia in the world and the growing animosity Muslim women face.”
Khan welcomed the latest decision.
“I’m ecstatic. This is a win for Muslim women and their allies. This sends a really clear message – let’s stop bullying Muslim women and get out of their wardrobes. It’s a religious and feminist issue.”
Many in the game of football have also expressed delight. With decision makers at FIFA and elsewhere tainted in recent months by corruption scandals, it’s refreshing to see officials do something positive.
“This positive decision will remove all barriers and bring in more women players into the game,” said acting president of the Asian Football Confederation Zhang Jilong. “This also shows the world that FIFA and the game’s lawmakers are serious about making the game accessible to all and preserving its status as the number one sport in the world.”
“HRH Prince Ali deserves my heartiest congratulations for the determined manner in which he took up cudgels on behalf of the women players who were stopped from playing football because they wore hijabs. HRH Prince Ali convincingly proved that the hijab is more of a cultural symbol than a religious one.”
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