Basketball England has welcomed the news that global governing body FIBA has changed the rules on headgear to allow players to wear the hijab – a head covering worn by many Muslim women – in games.
The practice had previously been banned, with FIBA citing it as a safety issue, and the Qatar women’s team withdrew from the Asian Games three years ago having been denied permission to wear the hijab.
However, the new rules were officially ratified on Thursday and they will now come into effect on Sunday, October 1st 2017.
A FIBA statement read: “The new rule comes as a result of the fact that traditional dress codes in some countries – which called for the head and/or entire body being covered – were incompatible with previous headgear rules.”
Nicky Brown, Basketball England’s National Leagues Manager, said: “FIBA’s rule change is great for the game as we constantly strive for equality and aim to encourage – and increase – female participation.
“We have previously granted exemptions to this rule – especially at youth level – to allow players that love the game to continue to play.
“Now we don’t need to do this, I’m sure it will open up many doors for increased participation for minority groups, who have previously felt they had a barrier to participation.”
Sheffield Hatters’ Ezdihar Abdulmula (above), who has campaigned for the hijab to be allowed to be worn during games using the hashtag #FibaAllowHijab, commented: “Sport is a worldwide language that brings people together from all walks of life. All of my coaches and team-mates have been supportive throughout my time playing so far and treat me just like any other player on the court. I have never seen the hijab as a barrier because I have always been involved in sports and worn the hijab for many years now.
“However, I understand that many girls are discouraged from taking up certain sports because they do not feel welcomed or there is not a role model that they can associate with. Due to an injury this season, I’ve had more time to coach both running and wheelchair basketball, which - in turn - has afforded me the opportunity to encourage more girls and women to take up the game and support the campaign.
“Now, knowing that FIBA has allowed the hijab, it proves to them that they are greater than any obstacles that stand in their way. In addition, I would like to see more women involved in all aspects and levels of sports - including governing bodies - because sport is for everyone regardless of gender, religion and ability.”
Asma Elbadawi, a British Sudanese point guard who plays for Bradford Cobras, said: “I’ve been fortunate to play for teams that have understood my religious beliefs and did not force me to choose between basketball and my faith. To begin with, I thought playing with the hijab would be a barrier, but - the first time I went to training with my hijab on - the coaches were very supportive, treated me like any other player on the court and focused on building my confidence and skills.
“Basketball has taught me so many life skills that I would not have been able to gain anywhere else. This has allowed me to see the value of basketball in my life and how it has the ability to have a positive impact upon the lives of other women as well due to its very nature as a team sport.”
Elbadawi added: “I could see this day coming because other governing bodies have already relaxed their rules regarding religious attire. I knew that FIBA would eventually see the need to acknowledge both male and female players of different faiths that practise religious headwear.
“However, it was just a thought so for it now to have manifested into a reality is an indescribable feeling. This is a huge step for FIBA. Basketball is one of the fastest growing sports, so there is a large demographic of talent to tap into.
“The fact that there is no longer a ban in place to prevent or exclude players from certain backgrounds from making it to the pros means we are about to witness the game transform on - and off - the court.
“Firstly, there’s no doubt every single female and male player that wears religious headgear will bring something different to the game in terms of character, skills and style. Secondly, with the presence of females playing with the hijab and yarmouks and males in turbans and kippahs on our TVs, there will be scope to further inspire future generations as they will see players who look like them and can relate to their struggles.
“It’s important for a junior player to see an adult athlete that looks like them and faced similar struggles as they will in order for them to make it as this says to the young girls and boys: ’You can do it too.’
Raabya Pasha added: “I was overjoyed upon hearing the news (that the ban had been lifted) as all of that hard work in raising awareness of the ban had finally paid off. It was a long time coming.
“As female athletes, one of the main things that concerned my fellow hijab-wearing players and I after hearing about this ban was the future participation of young girls in sports. We didn’t want the ban to stop young, striving female athletes to never pick up a basketball or not realise their potential solely because they were afraid or discouraged to participate.
“This ban formed a glass ceiling for hijab-wearing athletes as they knew what they could achieve and where they could potentially take their basketball career, but they first had to address the question: ‘Basketball or Hijab?.’ This was why we decided to raise awareness and lobby against the ban.
“We are capable of playing at national or international level and the lifting of the ban ensures that the future generation - the young girls that are out there today - no longer face this barrier. The only barrier they’ll face now is the opposition they’re up against on the court. There’s nothing to stop them from picking up that ball and dribbling it.
“Hopefully, young girls will soon see someone that looks like them (an athlete wearing the hijab) compete at the very highest level, giving them something not only to relate to, but also to aspire to be like and increase the interest among the younger generation.”
Exceptions were first granted at national level as part of a two-year testing period back in September 2014, when FIBA initiated a revision process of its headgear rule.
Football’s global governing body, FIFA, had officially approved the wearing of head covers for religious reasons during matches earlier that very same year.