As elite soccer players compete in the qualifiers for this summer’s Olympics, some won’t even get a shot to show off their skills: female Muslim players can be automatically disqualified for wearing hijab (or headscarves) on the field.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) — a governing body that sets the rules for the soccer trials leading up to the Olympics — has already disqualified the entire women’s Iranian national team after they tried to wear headscarves during their qualifying match. Players on the teams from Jordan, Palestine and Bahrain who choose to wear headscarves face the same fate.
For Rahaf Owais, a staffer at the Jordanian Football Association, the headscarf ban means the end of some young players’ careers before they even begin. After seeing some of Jordan’s players disqualified for expressing their religious beliefs, Rahaf started a petition on Change.org urging IFAB to reverse its ban on female soccer players wearing headscarves. Click here to stand up for Rahaf’s young players and sign her petition.
IFAB has argued the headscarf ban is about safety, but the Iranian players who were disqualified were wearing wraps fastened with specially designed Velcro closures meant to eliminate any chance of neck injury. For players who choose to wear headscarves for religious reasons, the ban of even the safe, new head coverings is discrimination, plain and simple.
Earlier this week, the President of the Asian Football Confederation, Zhang Jilong, called on IFAB to reconsider the headscarf ban at its upcoming meeting on March 3. And now FIFA — the international federation that runs the World Cup and is a voting member of IFAB — has piled on and is urging IFAB to change the rule.
Zhang and the FIFA leadership have a lot of influence in the soccer world, so we know IFAB is paying attention to this issue. If enough people speak out by signing Rahaf’s petition, IFAB will be convinced the public wants them to reverse the ban and lift the discriminatory barrier keeping some women from competing in the Olympic trials.