TALES FROM A HIJABI FOOTBALLER

I smash assumptions.

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Unveiling Hijab on the Pitch

This morning I woke up to find out that a design submitted by designer in Montreal Elham Sayed Javad was accepted by IFAB as an acceptable FIFA-approved model for a headscarf.
This means that we may soon be seeing hijabs on the pitch. It will open up the doors of competition and inclusion for thousands of potential footballers and extend opportunity for existing players.
I have been playing football for almost 30 years.This decision is a victory for me, my daughter and her daughters.
It is also a victory for the sport.
Football is a game that unites countries in turmoil, strangers in fandom and creates development and cooperation between nations and communities that may not otherwise have a connection.
Most important is signifies the importance of choice. If a woman wishes to wear hijab and still participate at a high level, she is not restricted from doing so.
The world is abuzz with many people philisophizing and making assumptions about women in hijab. There are questions to its’ relevance in this country, the impositions of the Eastern world and its’ representation of patriarchy and oppression.
The core issue of hijab in football isn’t about religion. It’s about opportunity, right to wear and respect.
Whether a player wears a turban, is adorned with tattoos of the Holy Trinity or wears a Star of David is quite frankly irrelevant.
Their personal choice to believe in a faith and practice can not be a reason to eliminate them from play. Particularly now that there has been a hijab-designed to meet all safety criteria that IFAB requires.
My football uniform consists of my hijab as much as it does my jersey and my boots. I don’t use pins - just a stretchable cotton with another piece underneath, so my current club allowed me to play.
I even bought a branded athletic shirt and stitched it to my liking as the material had wicking fabric suitable for intense matches.
For a very long time after I chose to wear hijab, I was excluded from playing in regular FIFA  and Canadian Soccer Association sanctioned-clubs. Most local clubs decided to avoid the issue and although they were independent, FIFA said “NO” so they could do the same. They cited various reasons; everything from players safety to non-permissibility of religious symbols to simply ‘we aren’t sure- so no’. Some clubs decided it was up to the referee to decide leaving players and teams quite frustrated without a firm answer. Each provincial football body may have varying levels of deference to FIFA’s hijab ban which was strictly imposed in 2007 as a neck-safety precaution. Many argue Law 4 of FIFA it is about racism and xenophobia as opposed to safety.
Thankfully, I found a fantastic club in my area devoted to
Youth Soccer and eventually I became the convener for the women’s division. There was all level of skill- ranging from varsity elite to beginner.


Because there were no restriction on type of hijab, many different women decided to join. They felt less judged and accepted. No concerns regarding eligibility due to hijab.
For those who are much more competitive and looking for serious football, it may have been frustrating at times. A good run in an enjoyable environment but not the full organization and competition they may have craved. But the only option available. Not anymore thanks to ResportOn’s Pro Release design. It uses tiny magnets that can be released quickly, as opposed to velcro and uses dry fit materials. It has met all medical standards and criteria by IFAB.
The prototype of this headscarf was thoroughly researched, tested and re-tested. It is also affordable.

I had a few concerns regarding the initial IFAB approval. One of which was accessibility and price.
Had the scarf been designed by a large multinational company, then the product may have been too expensive for a young girl to purchase. That would had further isolated many girls from communities. Thus creating an atmosphere of privilege.
Thus far ResportON hijabs are approx $60 CDN. Hopefully the price for the new design will not be much higher. For highly competitive Muslim athletes, that can be considered as necessary as their football boots and shin guards; a part of their kit. Not a clothing item that would have to be purchased too frequently- depending on the amount of play and product care.
A large company may have tried to sell the hijab at a high-end price rendering the product which is suppose to include a minority football playing demographic, unattainable.
Another issue of concern would be whether now that a specific hijab is permitted on-field,
would all Muslim players representing Muslim countries be required or expected to wear it?
Part of the philosophy of women in sport is choice, freedom and the health benefits of play.
Forcing a woman to wear a headscarf because it is permissible by FIFA rules, would go against the spirit of women playing football.
The importance of choice whether it be to play or to wear hijab are inextricably linked.
The operative word being choice.
Now many more women around the world from varying parts will be able to represent their country in international play. The do not have to feel they have to choose between observing a part of their faith they feel is mandatory or choosing their passion for football.
There are Muslim women participating at International levels but until now, they were not permitted to play in FIFA sanctioned tournaments or games wearing a headscarf.
The result of that was equating hijab with an inability to advance to the highest level of women’s football in the world.
When FIFA issues a formal statement and introduction of said hijab, smaller clubs, national and provincial Football Organizations should follow suit and adopt a policy that they disregarded or previously avoided delving into.
Hijab-wearing women could represent Iran, Canada, France, Germany, England, Turkey, China, Afghanistan and even the United States at high levels.
It will give way to younger girls and women being allowed to play in recreational and /or in semi-competitive leagues. It will open the idea to have women participate and join in,whereby living fuller, healthier lifestyles and sharing interests.
The fact that will be far more women at trials for various clubs and communities is hugely important. Increases competition and awareness of equality within sport.
The optics of a Muslim women competing is a powerful thing. This summer the London Olympics had many Muslim women represented as participants. In fact it was the first time every nation competing had females athletes- including Muslim countries that had previously not had female competitors.
Now many Muslim countries can compete with full squads in football to what has already become an incredibly exciting sport to watch.
Canada is hosting the Women’s World Cup in 2015. It will be a time of excitement, welcome and more attention to the World’s game- particularly the Women’s game.  At that point FIFA would have fully allowed the participation of strong teams on which players wear hijab: Egypt, Iran, Yemen; rendering this a more inclusive, open and accessible sport.
I wait for a final statement from IFAB with some trepidation.
The implications of this are huge for women in the world today. Many footballers will not have to watch from the sidelines anymore.
To have Muslim women participate in the beautiful game, the world’s most popular sport, shall only heighten the majesty of the world of football which may now include all types of women- hijabi footballers included.

Picture via Meera Sethi: http://meerasethi.blogspot.ca/2011/07/introducing-fifa.html

Filed under FIFA FIFA Women's World Cup football footy girls hijab inclusion respect right2wear soccer sport team women

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