Qatar takes a stand in hijab row at Asiad
September 25 2014 01:37 AM
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Qatar’s women’s basketball team leaving the court after forfeiting their  basketball game against Mo
Qatar’s women’s basketball team leaving the court after forfeiting their basketball game against Mongolia at Hwaseong Sports Complex during the Asia

Reuters

The issue of religious freedom took centre stage at the Asian Games yesterday when Qatari women forfeited a basketball game after refusing to remove the Islamic head scarf, dealing another blow to an event that trumpets diversity and inclusiveness.

Organisers of Incheon’s Asian Games, which have welcomed 9,500 athletes from 45 countries across the length and breadth of the world’s most populous continent, said their hands were tied by International Basketball Federation (FIBA) regulations.

Qatari player Ahlam Salem M Al-Mana said the team had decided to send a strong message to the governing body by refusing to take the court against Mongolia.

“We have to take this stand,” she said. “We knew about the hijab ban, but we have to be here.

“We have to show everyone that we are ready to play, but the international association is not ready.”

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the FIBA’s laws, which have been roundly criticised by sporting and human rights groups.

FIBA Article 4.2.2 dictates that players cannot wear “headgear, hair accessories and jewellery”, though narrow headbands are permitted.

 “The right of the athletes must be the highest priority,” said OCA director general Husain al-Musallam.

“Every athlete has the right to represent their country’s flag without discrimination or without the threat of a financial penalty.”

Sports federations had a duty to protect athletes and “allow them to exercise their right of freedom of choice with dignity”, he added in a statement.

An assistant with Qatar’s National Olympic Committee who declined to be named said they had not made up their minds about whether they would play against Nepal today.

The use of hijabs has become a hot topic in sport in recent years with Muslim athletes complaining that they are being discriminated against.

Human rights groups and the United Nations joined forces to put pressure on sporting bodies to lift the bans.

Earlier this year, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) unanimously overturned a ban on the garments, allowing soccer players to wear them.

They had previously been banned due to safety concerns and because they were not recognised in the laws of the game. But FIFA medical reports showed there were no safety concerns.

Other sports at the Asian Games allow athletes to wear the hijab. All four members of the Iranian lightweight women’s quadruple sculls team wore hijabs as they rowed to a bronze medal yesterday.

Basketball remains one of the exceptions, though FIBA said earlier this month it had held discussions on the issue and was introducing a two-year “testing phase” on what players can wear.

“Relaxing the current rules regarding headgear in order to enable national federations to request, as of now, exceptions to be applied at the national level within their territory without incurring any sanctions for violation of FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules,” FIBA explained.

“National Federations wishing to apply for such an exception to the uniform regulations shall submit a detailed request to FIBA. Once approved, they shall submit follow-up reports twice a year to monitor the use of such exceptions.”

Qatar’s Amal Mohamed A Mohamed said she was confused as to why they were not allowed to wear the hijab at the Asian Games, which are being run under the slogan: ‘Diversity Shines Here’.

“I just don’t understand why we’re not allowed to play with the hijab. I don’t think the hijab is dangerous, and negatively influences the match or other players,” she said.

“We’ve attended many international competitions in Indonesia and China. Therefore, we will not attend any games in this Asian Games unless the officials change their decision.” 

The row overshadowed another lively day of action in Incheon, where China’s gold rush hit full stride and South Korea tightened their grip on second place ahead of rivals Japan.

After five days of competition, China top the medal table on 59 golds, followed by the Koreans on 26 and Japan on 20.

 

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