Why basketball should embrace the hijab

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Sport is for everyone: the mutual desire and drive brings people from diverse backgrounds together.

There are, however, barriers for those who wear headscarves or head coverings as part of their religious or cultural observance. For example, the Sikh turban, Jewish yarmulke and Islamic hijab. Some sports prohibit individuals from wearing such clothing in professional tournaments.

This is the challenge that Muslim women basketball players internationally are trying to tackle. They are lobbying Horacio Muratore, President of the International Basketball Association (FIBA), to lift this ban.

The campaign known as #fibaALLOWhijab relaunched this month. Indira Kaljo, a professional basketball player in the United States, launched the campaign in 2014. It was a success and the FIBA agreed to a two-year provisional lifting of the ban as a testing phase. Now basketball players remain uncertain if it will result in a permanent ban.

Basketball coach and spoken word artist, Asma Elbadawi, from Bradford UK started her petition on Change.org , and reached thousands of signatures in under a week. She believes the ban not only stops Muslim women (and others) from pursuing their passions but also prevents them from gaining core leadership skills from playing sport. Twelve petitions have been created by women in the United States, Sweden, Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria – totalling over 27,000 signatures.

“Playing basketball opens up many opportunities for me. It allows me to travel, to play alongside women from all over the world, to strengthen my interpersonal and people skills. I have even been able to obtain coaching qualifications that have allowed me to coach in different settings, from females at university level in the UK to both young men and women in a secondary school in rural Tanzania,” she said.

Elbadawi said the respect given to her faith from her team plays a crucial role in her success.

Though she had the momentum and drive for sport from a young age as she stopped playing sport upon completion of secondary education.

Elbadawi strongly believes that whilst it is important that those wearing headscarves are visible in the professional leagues and in the media: “I did what many Muslim girls do. I was under the impression that it was inappropriate for Muslim women to participate in sport for the simple reason that I had never seen a Muslim female athlete wearing a Hijab in the media.”

It remains crucial that clubs connect with young women and girls at a grassroots level to support their development. And it’s important that we create an open and inclusive sporting culture in schools, universities, community centres, gyms, etc.

For Kaljo: “FIBA haven’t given any public statement as to if they will permanently allow hijab. We are anxiously waiting for their decision in August.”

Should the ban be permanently lifted, it has the potential to make a significant impact on those who may have previously felt excluded. For the FIBA, it could open up opportunities to harness fresh talent and set an example of good practice to other sports.

Rima Amin is a London based freelance journalist and campaigner particularly interested in social justice and international affairs and writes in a personal capacity.. Her website is sliceofsimplicity.com

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