Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Soccer group agrees to test hijabs for female players

(RNS) Muslim female soccer players are celebrating a decision by the International Football Association Board to allow them to test specially designed head coverings for four months.

Soccer's international governing body, known as FIFA, has prohibited headscarves since 2007, citing safety concerns. The new headscarves will be fastened with Velcro rather than pins.

The headscarf prohibition has generated controversy among fans of the world's most popular team sport, especially in Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East and central Asia.

Iran's women's soccer team was banned from this summer's 2012 Olympic Games in London after players appeared with headscarves before a match against Jordan last year. Later, Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who is also vice president of FIFA, started pushing to lift the ban.

In Canada, Quebec's Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association barred a referee from a game in 2011 because she wore a headscarf, citing prohibitions against religious symbols on uniforms. During a 2007 youth tournament in Quebec, a Muslim player was ejected from a game for wearing a headscarf.

While banned in international soccer, headscarves have been permitted and worn without incident in other competitive sports. Several women competed with headscarves in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, including Bahrain's Roqaya Al-Gassra, who reached the semifinals of the 200-meter sprint in Beijing.

Many Muslim female athletes wear typical sports clothing without worrying about Islamic dress codes, including Laila Ali, a retired professional boxer; Pakistani Olympic swimmers Kiran Khan and Rubab Raza; and Moroccan hurdler Nawal El Moutawakel, who became the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, in Los Angeles in 1984.

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