Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 March 2012
Issue No. 1088
Sports
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Velcro-fastened headscarves

Though Muslim women will be allowed to wear the headscarf in international football as of next July, it remains still subject to health and safety checks

Click to view caption
Women footballers wearing headscarves

According to Keir Radnedge, chairman of the AIPS Football commission, the decision follows a change of heart by the law-making International Football Association Board meeting at Bagshot, south-west of London.

Prince Ali of Jordan -- supported by a vibrant worldwide social media campaign -- has won a highly significant victory not only for women's football in Asia in particular but in terms of his own status after just a year on the FIFA executive committee.

A presentation by Prince Ali, approved by the FIFA executive committee, persuaded the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to reverse a prohibition on the hijab which has been in place since the issue first arose in a junior league in Canada in 2007.

First, however, the proposed Velcro-fastened scarf has to be checked out by a working party, including FIFA's medical advisers. Assuming this gives the all-clear, a final approval will be granted by an extraordinary meeting of the IFAB in Kiev on 2 July.

Prince Ali received significant support from the manner in which English Football Association David Bernstein, who chaired the meeting, ensured that the issue received a full airing.

IFAB, made up of four FIFA representatives and one each from the British home associations, is a highly conservative body which has, down the years, been especially protective of the standard football kit.

The headscarf issue hit the international media glare in June last year when Iran's women's team were 'hijabbed' out of the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan. That was the day before Prince Ali officially took up his role on the FIFA executive committee and, since the incident occurred in his own backyard, fuelled his pursuit of a change of attitude.

Prince Ali's case rested on a belief that a change of attitude would empower many more women to play football in the Islamic world.

He said: "I am deeply grateful that the proposal to allow women to wear a headscarf in football was unanimously endorsed by all members of IFAB. I welcome the decision for an accelerated process to further test the current new and safe design presented.

"I am confident that once the final ratification in the July special meeting of IFAB takes place, we will see many delighted and happy players returning to the football field and playing the game that they love.

"On behalf of the Asian Football Confederation that mandated me to pursue this issue, I would like to wholeheartedly thank all IFAB members, especially our host, chairman David Bernstein, for their leadership and vision in fulfilling the dreams of many women around the world. As President Blatter once said, the future of football is indeed feminine.

"I would also like to thank all the organisations as well as football and sports officials and players who have passionately supported the right of all women to participate in the beautiful game. To all who aspire to play the sport we love and compete at the highest levels, congratulations."

Before the IFAB meeting, Prince Ali had described the present situation: "Women's football has come a long way, as we experienced in the last Women's World Cup, and the present situation is saying to women worldwide that you're not allowed to participate for a reason that makes no sense. That's prejudice. It's not fair. It has had to be dealt with.

"Long sleeves and leggings are already allowed. This is not an issue of religious symbolism; it is simply a case of cultural modesty and I'm tackling this now because it is a big issue for many many women all across the world. Everyone from the UN to the regional federations have been supportive."

Prince Ali vehemently rejected any suggestion that permitting the headscarf would put football on a slippery slope of being pressed to pander to religious and/or political and/or cultural extremism. In his words: "This has been an opportunity to empower women in sport... a golden opportunity for the game."

Reviewing the IFAB discussion Alex Horne, general-secretary of England's FA, said: "We had a fantastic presentation from Prince Ali and I'm delighted to say that in principle the IFAB is in favour of moving forward with the headscarf on a voluntary basis for women who wish to wear them, subject to the fact that they must be health and safety compliant.

"FIFA will establish a working group including the medical committee to make sure the proposed headscarfs are safe and we expect to revisit that for a final decision on 2 July. If it's safe -- and we have no reason to expect the technology we've seen, with a Velcro fastening won't be safe -- we'd expect to approve that on 2 July so it will be in time for next season."

FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke added: "We had a lot of letters from around the world but that was not the basis of the decision. It was based on a report and what the four members and FIFA felt about this issue had nothing to do with what the United Nations said to FIFA. After all, we don't say anything about Syria to the United Nations. It was purely a football issue.

"Prince Ali gave us a perfect presentation and talked about law and how important this was in his region and it was a unanimous decision."

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