They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.
Posted by Anni on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
While we may not realize it in America with our baseball and football, soccer is the most popular team sport in the world. In recent years, women have found a place on the field, as many countries have begun to recognize the skill of their female athletes. International women’s leagues have raised the level of play, and today the women’s World Cup, while perhaps not quite as feverishly followed as the men’s, has thousands of die-hard fans. For young girls, soccer is a great way to build self-esteem, physical fitness, and interpersonal relationships. For the elite female athlete, soccer can now be a career. Of course, women’s soccer is not without its controversies. Recently, FIFA banned the hijab from the field.
Soccer is a political entity. Government rivalries are played out on the turf, while big corporations back their favorite players against their competitors. Players fight for honor and respect on a widely televised international stage. Like the Roman Coliseum, lives are made and broken based on the outcome of the match. Money changes hands. The crowd brawls over a bad call. The pump is primed for controversy when people all over the world are watching. Yet FIFA seemed unconcerned about their hijab ban or, at least, they made no attempt to cater to affected players.
While FIFA claims the hijab ban is due to safety concerns, the cultural and gender implications are not lost to the players or the fans. This is not a rule that affects all players equally. This is a rule that affects women players who have fought for years for the right to share the spotlight with the men. It highlights the gender inequalities of the sport, already so apparent in the sport’s history. It also raises a serious question about gender inequality in general: if a religion dictates that women dress a certain way, isn’t it our duty to find a way to allow them to do so? Permitting women to play a sport isn’t enough. Inclusion is only the first step.
FIFA has responded to the uproar by experimenting with soccer-appropriate hijabs that can be worn safely during play.
Why didn’t FIFA do this in the first place? I wonder how it is possible that, in an international organization all too familiar with cultural sensitivities, nobody thought to consider the implications of the ban before announcing it to the world. Yes, we all want our athletes to be safe. Yes, if a religious garment is dangerous we need to find another solution. But no, it is never acceptable to simply tell religious players they can’t play because of their religious apparel. There is still no guarantee that the FIFA board will accept the specially designed hijabs. If they don’t, you’ll surely be hearing more about the controversy here.