ZURICH – Revving dreams of female Muslim footballers, soccer’s rulemakers and its governing body FIFA agreed to allow Muslim women players to wear a headscarf during official tournaments.
"To all women players worldwide, congratulations," FIFA vice-president and executive committee member Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, who led a year-long campaign to overturn the headscarf ban, said in a statement cited by Reuters on Thursday, July 5.
"We all look forward to seeing you performing on the field of play. Women's football is on the rise and we are all counting on you. You have our full support."
Headscarves were banned from FIFA competitions in 2007.
Last March 2012, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) allowed women players to wear the hijab, a decision the waited ratification by FIFA’s meeting last Thursday.
Later on, IFAB asked for further medical experts’ advice who eased their opposition to the ban on Muslim footballers’ hijab last week.
In overturning the ban, the IFAB took cognizance of new designs that are secured with Velcro and which experts have said eliminate the risk of serious injury.
“Safety and medical issues have been removed for the use of the headscarf and it is approved that players can have the headscarf,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told a news conference.
Critics said the ban promoted inequality at the highest level of the world’s most popular game.
“This decision, impatiently awaited, makes us very happy,” said Sheikha Naima Al-Sabah, the president of the women’s sporting committee for Kuwait’s football federation.
“It brings justice to female players. Its positive impact will be direct on Kuwaiti women’s enthusiasm to play football,” Sabah added.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
In April 2010, FIFA announced that it was planning to ban the Muslim headscarf and other religious outings during the 2012 London Olympics.
Last year, Iran women's football team were prevented from playing their 2012 Olympic second round qualifying match against Jordan because they refused to remove their hijabs before kickoff.
Iran, who had topped their group in the first round of Olympic qualifiers after going undefeated, were given 3-0 defeats as a penalty which abruptly ended their dreams of qualifying for the London Olympics.
FIFA's ruling on the hijab was welcomed by a number of Arab states as well as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
“It’s a good news for us. It will benefit the community. It will be good for the Muslim community,” Alex Soosay, general secretary of the AFC, based in the capital Kuala Lumpur of Muslim-majority Malaysia, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Others saw the FIFA’s decision as boosting women’s football in the Gulf.
FIFA’s decision is “going to promote women’s sport in Arab and Islamic countries, which have top-notch soccer players who are unable to compete because of the veil ban,” said Adel Marzouq, coach of the women’s football team from Bahrain.
“This wise decision will encourage footballers to play their chosen sport without embarrassment,” he added.
In the United Arab Emirates, where football is encouraged from an early age, women will from now on have the “chance to practice this sport with religious respect,” said Yussef Abdallah, the head of the country’s football federation.
In neighboring Qatar, the tiny, gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 World Cup and which encourages women’s sport, the relief was clear.
“FIFA was assured that the headscarf doesn’t impact security, which will allow women footballers to freely practice their sport,” said Hani Ballan, Qatar’s technical adviser for women’s football.
“The number of women playing soccer is going to grow, along with the support of families, footballing federations and sporting bodies worried about Muslim identity,” Ballan added.
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