The Maldives’ women’s basketball team refused to play without their headscarves, forfeiting the International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) first under 18 three-on-three tournament held in Bangkok, Thailand earlier this week.
“The girls were really upset, we are as well. We came prepared based on the uniform the team wore in the last two games,” Maldives Basketball Association (MBA) President Ahmed Hafiz told Minivan News today (May 27).
“According to FIBA, the head cannot be covered during play. We have to go with FIBA rules if we want to play,” Hafiz stated.
The Maldives’ women’s basketball team has been allowed to participate in past tournaments while wearing burugaathah (headscarves), however the decision to make an exception to the rules “depends on the officials”, according to Hafiz.
“Qatar held a tournament two weeks back and there were some complaints that the Qatar team was wearing headgear, so FIBA was forced to apply the rules,” Hafiz explained. “Maybe that is the reason this issue came up for the Maldives [in this tournament].”
FIBA Asia has designed a jersey for Muslim players, but still needs to obtain FIBA international approval, according to the MBA.
“FIBA Asia is working on this because lots of Muslim countries are involved. Now the are suggesting to FIBA International to change the rules to allow headgear,” said Hafiz.
The Maldives’ under 18 women’s team is planning to participate in the upcoming Asian Youth Games, to be held this August in Nanjing, China, according to Hafiz.
“However, [the choice] is up to the players. We will not force them,” he said.
“This is a big problem for the game and will ruin the development of women’s basketball for a place like this, because there are still very few girl players and most wear the burugaa,” MBA Secretary General Arif Riza told Minivan News today.
“FIBA is pretty clear about the rules, so although the team has been allowed to play twice before, this was a mistake of ours also,” said Riza.
The primary issues of concern to MBA are that FIBA permitted the Maldives’ team to wear headscarves during tournaments in 2011 and 2012 as well as allowed other teams to play in violation of different dress code rules, such as wearing t-shirts instead of jerseys, according to Riza.
“Immediately after President Hafiz arrives [from Thailand] we will discuss the issue and write FIBA a letter,” said Riza.
“They should be allowed to have the right to play,” he declared.
The headgear ban is “a part of FIBA Rules, but not a policy,” FIBA Asia Secretary General Hagop Khajirian told Minivan News Thursday (May 23).
“It has nothing to do with headscarves as such, but more to do with the regulations which stipulate that the playing gears of players has to be such that it may not cause any harm or hindrance to themselves or opponent players,” explained Khajirian.
Although these rules have “been the case always”, FIBA is currently reviewing the headscarf restriction.
“There have been requests from many nations regarding this. And the FIBA Asia Central Board, in its meeting [held] on April 24 in Kuala Lumpur, resolved to send a study paper to FIBA to be taken up for further consideration,” said Khajirian.
The choice to cover
While Maldivian women’s participation in basketball is slowly increasing, netball is popular nationwide. Although there are key distinctions between the two sports – such as no dribbling in netball – the rules are very similar, according to a skilled Maldivian netball player of nine years and student coach of six years.
“Wearing the burugaa while playing netball is no problem for us, it is not difficult and we’ve never experienced any injuries [from the headscarves],” she explained on condition of anonimity.
“Every person has the choice of whether or not they choose to wear the burugaa. However, it is a religious thing, in Islam Muslims have to cover, it is the right thing,” she continued.
“Although some are not wearing [headscarves], that is their choice,” she added.
The netball enthusiast agreed with the Maldives’ women’s basketball team decision to not remove their headscarves and forefit their game in the recent FIBA three-on-three tournament.
“Their choice was the correct one, they do not want to break religous rules,” she said.
“FIBA should change their rules if they want Maldivians to participate, because so many [women] are wearing burugaathah. They have to change so everyone can compete,” she added.
A senor researcher from the internatonal NGO, Human Rights Watch, previously highlighted the discriminatory issue of banning women from wearing headscarves, in a 2012 article “Banning Muslim Veil Denies Women a Choice, Too”.
“The sad irony is that whether they are being forced to cover up or to uncover, these women are being discriminated against. Banned from wearing the hijab – a traditional Muslim headscarf – or forced to veil themselves, women around the world are being stripped of their basic rights to personal autonomy; to freedom of expression; and to freedom of religion, thought and conscience,” wrote Judith Sunderland.
“Denying women the right to cover themselves is as wrong as forcing them to do so. Muslim women, like all women, should have the right to dress as they choose and to make decisions about their lives and how to express their faith, identity and moral values. And they should not be forced to choose between their beliefs and their chosen profession,” notes the article.
Muslim women’s basketball players in Switzerland and Baharain have also faced controversial opposition to their refual to remove their headscarves.
The Baharaini team was “lauded” for their refusal to remove their headscarves during an international competition in 2009, according to Gulf News.
Meanwhile, Sura Al-Shawk, a 19 year-old STV Luzern basketball player, was denied permission to play while wearing a headscarf by the Swiss basketball association ProBasket in 2010, reported the Associated Press.
ProBasket told the Associated Press it followed FIBA rules and that wearing the headscarf while playing basketball “could increase the risk of injury and the sport has to be religiously neutral”.
In July 2012, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) overturned a headscarf ban, which was put into place in 2007, after a yearlong campaign led by FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan, reported the Associated Press.