Why FIFA is wrong about banning Iranian women

It’s depressing how those Iranian women footballers are getting kicked around like footballs.  The question is – can they play football with their hijabs or headscarves on?

On one side, there is FIFA, sticking rigidly to its stand that hijabs can cause “choking injuries” and are thus unsafe to wear.  On the other side, you have the Iranian sports authorities who had at least a year to protest to FIFA if they did not like the redesigned caps that FIFA proposed to address this very issue in 2010.  The caps apparently don’t cover the entire neck (which makes them not the same as a hijab), but surely the Iranians knew this before?

Iranian women footballers  Pic: Yahoo Sports

Iranian women footballers Pic: Yahoo Sports

Let’s take FIFA’s stand first.  Is the hijab really a choking hazard?  From the picture above, I cannot see how anyone can accidentally choke on a hihab.  It does not have loose ends floating around, so you cannot trip on it, or have anyone get tangled it in it, or accidentally pull it.

But if someone were to grab the headscarf from behind, in the nape area, yes, you could choke.  But such a grab would have to be deliberate, and is not only illegal as per football rules, trying to choke someone deliberately would be illegal in any country.  There is no reason why you would want to grab someone’s neck to stop them when you are playing football.

So I cannot understand FIFA’s logic – are they saying that they want to prevent a set of players from playing because someone could potentially illegally grab them by the neck?  Is that the substance of their objection to the hijab?  If it is, it doesn’t make any sense.  One even starts to wonder if this is the real reason.  After all, banning hijabs in public seems to be the current fashion in Europe.

It also looks like Iran was not the only team facing the headscarf issue. Jordanian players had the same problem, but the team resolved this by not picking those women who were unwilling to play without headscarves. In even more conservative Iran, this would not have been an option.

And now the Iranian delegation is accusing the Bahrainian referree of being politically motivated in his decision to stop Iranians from playing.  (Bahrain and Iran have not been on the best of terms of late, and Bahrain believes Iran has been supporting the anti-government protestors in Bahrain).

In this whole imbroglio, those women footballers have been caught in the middle of other people playing politics and the religion card. All those women want to do is play football, and they must have overcome enormous social pressure to get to where they are.  I am sure they don’t find it comfortable to run around in the hot sun in track pants, long sleeves and a hijab.  But that’s the only way they can play at all, so they don’t have much of a choice.  It is a victory in itself that Iran still has a women’s football team and that it is allowed to play regular football at the highest level.  I cannot imagine this happening in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia –  after all,  Saudi women weren’t even allowed inside stadiums to watch football until a few years back.

The Iranian team also seems to be a pretty good one – they are ranked 51 in the world (India, in comparison, is at 54).  So they have every reason to presume that they would have qualified for the Olympics if not for this whole needless  hijab controversy.

At the end of the day, I blame FIFA for not looking at the bigger picture.  Their objections are so minor compared to the pressures the players are facing.  Why does FIFA have to stick to its ridiculous stand if it means disqualifying a whole country’s players?  Is this really the spirit of the Olympics ?  Shouldn’t they rather be encouraging these brave women who are battling so much to be able to play football?


8 thoughts on “Why FIFA is wrong about banning Iranian women

    • It’s probably the truth, although none of the reports I have read (and linked to) mention anything about display of religious symbols being the cause. If FIFA really wants to impose a ban on any religious symbol, shouldn’t they also object to players wearing chains with crosses on their necks?

  1. Surely, after having seen football in europe, you realise that something being illegal doesn’t stop people from doing it? 🙂 Headbutting isn’t legal either. Didn’t stop a great like Zidane from doing it during a World Cup Final! If so, there wouldn’t be murder, rape or robbery in the world. Idealistic don’t you tihnk? Especially in a game like football. So Iwouldn’t discount choking at all.

    The other point you’re making is tricky. Should you let them continue their “oppressive” methods to women who can do so much? When you get a chance, shouldn’t you let them be themselves and enjoy the freedom that others enjoy? Despite letting them be in your company would you still want them to be shackled to teh same oppression they face at home? A nuanced stand helps but in this case, deciding what is pandering and what is nuanced depends on point of view. And hence there can be no “correct” stance either. Haters gonna hate 🙂

    Of course, all this is considering if wearing a hijab is “oppressive” in itself. Another topic 🙂

    • Agreed that footballers don’t much care for the rules 🙂 But there’s a difference between an illegal move that will get you a yellow or red card and an illegal move that will get you an “Attempt to murder” charge. If footballers aren’t pulling each others chains and trying to garrote them, I’m assuming they will also not choke each other.

      My other point is that this is just a game, this is not social justice or reformation. FIFA is not in the business of deciding if Muslim women need to be freed of their hijabs. But even if that’s FIFA’s motive, banning hijabs is not going to help – if Iran is just going to harden its stand, then Iranian women will not be able to play at all. Does FIFA win then?

  2. You said it – FIFA should be encouraging these women to play, simply BECAUSE of the unimaginable difficulties they would have faced in becoming footballers… up to and including running about wearing all those clothes.

  3. Very sad. Rules should be followed in the spirit not in the letter, but it is not an ideal world. Whatever happened to acceptance of differences, inclusivity and the spirit of sportsmanship. I wish they would just let the team play.

    Reminds me of a Persian movie “Offside” that I greatly enjoyed, Iranian women trying their best to watch a game, in the days when they weren’t allowed in stadiums.

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