Relative to most areas of public life, the sports community has proven quite resistant to demands that Islam be accommodated, perhaps because the integrity of competition requires that fixed rules apply to all. FIFA, the global governing body of soccer, is the latest to just say no:
The secretary-general of Iran's National Olympic Committee has called on Muslim countries to protest the world soccer body's ban on headscarves for women during the Youth Olympic Games this summer.
Bahram Afsharzadeh has said that FIFA's decision to forbid the Iranian women's football team from wearing headscarves during the games in Singapore is a violation of Muslims' rights and shows disregard for "issues such as nationality, religion, and race."
The decision also creates "obstacles on their part in the way of women's progress," the hard-line Fars news agency quoted Afsharzadeh as saying.
Yes, a representative of Iran's theocracy decried "obstacles … in the way of women's progress." But FIFA's rules trump his protestations. They stipulate that "basic compulsory equipment," which does not include headgear, "must not contain any political, religious, or personal statements." Moreover, "a player may use equipment other than the basic equipment provided that its sole purpose is to protect him physically and it poses no danger to him or any other player." So even if one disagrees that an Islamic headscarf, by nature, carries a religious message, good luck arguing that its function is to prevent soccer-related injuries.
This is not the first time that hijabs have stirred controversy in sports. Three years ago, the International Football Association Board, which writes the rules that FIFA enforces, refused to cave after the Quebec Soccer Federation announced that "the wearing of the Islamic veil or any other religious item is not permitted." In addition, the Swiss basketball association ProBasket told a player set to debut in a regional league last year that she could not don a hijab on the court, noting that the world governing body FIBA prohibits religious symbols or head coverings.
And while female Muslim boxers can wear hijabs at the 2012 Olympics, male counterparts in the UK have yet to win religious accommodation of their own. Muslims and Sikhs are attempting to overturn the Amateur Boxing Association of England's newly comprehensive ban on beards, enacted because "facial hair can cause abrasions to opponents' faces … and most importantly doctors say clean-shaven athletes allow them to see cuts."
We close with a tragic tale of Islamic attire and sports. A woman was killed last week in Australia when her clothing, variously described as a burqa or hijab, got caught by the axle of a go-kart that she was driving. Signs at the track reportedly "outline a number of rules, including appropriate footwear for drivers, but do not mention scarves or other forms of head-dress." If they had, a Muslim's life could have been saved — despite the inevitable charges of anti-Muslim bigotry that such restrictions would have provoked.