Finally, FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, has lifted its infamous ban on headscarves. The ban, created due to “safety concerns,” was instituted in 2007. FIFA has now proposed a headscarf that is fastened with Velcro instead of pins, and is permitting female soccer players to test them out over a trial period of four months.
As a fan of both soccer and human rights, all I can say is, “It’s about time!” I remember so clearly when the Iranian women’s national team was banned from competing in the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament; after refusing to remove their headscarves, the previously undefeated team had been penalized with a 3-0 loss to Jordan. The disbelief at FIFA’s bogus response that the headscarves were a danger on the field was near universal. Many Muslim female athletes choose to wear a headscarf when competing, most notably Olympic sprinter Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain, and do so without suffering injury. It’s my opinion – and the opinion of many others, I’m sure – that FIFA’s reluctance to allow headscarves has less to do with safety and more to do with discomfort with Islam and the progression of the women’s game.
Some try to rationalize the ban by saying that expression of religion should be separate from the world’s most popular sport. To that I say alright, but what about Brazilian superstar Kaká’s many on-field testaments to Jesus and Mexican dynamo Chicharito’s tradition of praying on the field before a match?
Others say that the case of the Iranian women and their headscarves is less of an issue of religion, and more symbolic of a repressive government that mandates that women cover their head – it’s a problem of nationalism (and “saving” the women, a can of worms so problematic that I don't even want to get into it now). To that, I say fair enough, but worldwide soccer darlings FC Barcelona choose to wear the flag of Catalonia on their shirts and not the Spanish flag – I would argue that that’s a symbol of nationalistic separatism that should be stamped out as well. And on a more basic point, isn’t the simple wearing of flags on national uniforms a show of nationalism? Isn’t nationalism the point of even having a national team? It’s called logic, people!
Nationalism and religion seem to suspiciously only come under inspection when the women’s game is involved. Curious, no?
Soccer fans worldwide are for the most part disillusioned with FIFA and the decisions it makes (and the corruption it often festers – Sepp Blatter, I’m looking at you), but hopefully this ruling to allow headscarves marks the beginning of a positive relationship with the underrepresented women’s game. Let’s keep the Beautiful Game beautiful, shall we?