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?
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?