Opinion Brief

FIFA vs. Iran: The 'ridiculous' headscarf ban

The Iranian women's soccer squad is booted from an Olympic-qualifying match because the players' hijabs violate FIFA dress code. Is that fair?

FIFA officials disqualified the Iranian women's soccer team in their Olympic-qualifying match against Jordan — dashing their hopes of competing in the 2012 games — because the players' headscarves violated the organization's dress code. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by labeling FIFA "dictators." FIFA insists its decision was largely about "safety." Besides, FIFA's rules forbid players from displaying "political, religious, commercial, or personal messages" on their uniforms. Should some allowance have been made for Iran's players?

Yes, this decision is hypocritical: FIFA may want to separate "church and field," says Nona Willis Aronowitz at Good, but it enforces its rules inconsistently. Other international players "openly flaunt their faith with cross necklaces and public prayer," and plenty of players bless themselves before games. As long as the wearing of headscarves didn't give Iran's team an unfair advantage, "who cares?"
"FIFA headscarf ban crushes Olympic hopes for Iranian women's soccer"

No, Iran broke the rules: The soccer team knew that hijabs violated safety rules enacted last year, say FIFA officials in a statement. Caps that cover the head "to the hairline" are allowed. But anything that extends "below the ears to cover the neck" is not. The Iranian delegation "understood this," and the headscarves the players wore anyway instead of the smaller FIFA-approved head coverings were an "infringement of the laws of the game." Officials were right to cancel the game.
"World soccer officials defend hijab ban after Iranian team forfeits match"

In any case, this decision compromises the Olympics: Thanks a lot, FIFA, says Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress. You've cast a pall over the upcoming London summer games, by "pushing women out of an arena" where they can actually command respect. Banning the Iranian team is "counterproductive," and forces them to choose between respecting their faith and playing a sport that allows them to demonstrate "physical prowess and strategic intelligence."
"FIFA headscarf ban casts a pall on the Olympics, is generally ridiculous"

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