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Lesley Hazleton: Soccer v. Headscarf: 0-1

A great piece from the Accidental Theologist, Lesley Hazelton.

Soccer v. Headscarf: 0-1

by Lesley Hazleton

More absurdity this week:  FIFA, the international governing body of football, banned the Iranian women’s soccer team from an Olympic qualifying event because the players wear hijab — Islamic headscarves.  The official reason:  safety.  Wearing ahijab while playing “could cause choking injuries.”

Yeah, sure.  As one commenter noted, Google “hijab soccer choking deaths” and the search engine doesn’t exactly hum.

These aren’t just anyhijabs, mind you.  They have to be the coolest ones ever.  They’re like speed-skaters’ hoods, and the players look like white-clad ninjas.   I’ll bet they can move like ninjas too.   Clearly FIFA has no sense of style.

Correction:  FIFA has no sense, period.

The decision to ban the Iranian team was made by FIFA head Sepp Blatter, who’s apparently one of those Berlusconi-type men who’ll tell you how much he loves women, by which he means how much he loves looking at female flesh.  No, I’m not making assumptions.  The arrant hypocrisy of this ban is clear when you consider the fact that Blatter proposed in 2004 that women players wear plunging neckines and hot pants on the pitch to boost soccer’s popularity.  Tighter shorts, he said, would create “a more female esthetic.”

I guess it was kind of amazing he didn’t propose wet tee-shirts.

And if you believe that Blatter is for a moment concerned about women being injured, his response to requests by human rights organizations to take a stand against the sex trafficking that accompanies the arrival of the World Cup was this:  ”Prostitution and trafficking of women does not fall within the sphere of responsibility of an international sports federation but in that of the authorities and the lawmakers of any given country.”

No, Blatter’s all about the sport.  He’s presumably salivating for more on-field celebrations like Brandi Chastain‘s famous shirtless moment when the U.S. won the 1999 Women’s World Cup.  And drooling over women’s sportswear catalogs instead of Victoria’s Secret ones.  In which case he’s pathetically misreading that Chastain photo.  This was the victory of hard work and muscle over frills and pretty posturing.  Serena Williams revolutionized women’s tennis in much the same way, making it a power game (in dress as well as style of play — the black catsuit she wore a couple of years back was dynamite).

What Blatter’s really doing is trying to piggyback on the burqa ban in France and theminaret ban in his native Switzerland.  But the good news is that it’s backfiring on him.  Badly.  Already the focus of multiple accusations of corruption in his 12-year tenure as FIFA president, he probably saw this as an easy way to try to redeem himself by jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon.  Instead, the storm of criticism might be an indication that Europeans are beginning to realize just how badly they’ve been manipulated by misogynistic xenophobes on such issues as burqa bans.

One further note on that shirtless photo:  Chastain herself was amazed when it ran worldwide .  “I wasn’t trying to make a statement;  I was just carried away, and doing what male players do in the same situation,” she told me when I met her not long after.  “I was really surprised there was so much fuss about it.  I mean, there’s a much better photo of the victory moment, but nobody ran that one.”  Here it is, on the right — the photo they didn’t run, baggy shirt, baggy pants, and all.  Which I guess just means the world is full of Blatters.


(Thank to Sarah Hashim for alerting me to this story.  I know I was born in England, but soccer’s not my thing.  Tennis, though…)

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  • johd

    these are caps. The ban is because of the shirt, it has a polo neck that covers the neck.FIFA is claiming that that is stealth Hijab.

  • Iangould

    The safety concern is not that the hijab is a choking hazard – it’s that the specific style of Hijab in questioncould get in the way of a doctor administering emergency first aid for an injury to the larynx or the spinal cord.

    The Iranians were told about three years ago that this specific form of Hijab was unacceptable and asked to coem up with an alternative.

    They refused.

    Other Iranian female athletes in other international competitions wear hijab that ARE acceptable and some other Muslim country’s FIFA teams wear hijab withotu the same problem arising.

  • Anonomous

    then they should also ban Chelsea FC goalkeeper Petr Cech because his headgear can cause him to god forbid-choke or in a collision can cause nasty injuries to a forward. 😀

  • Corey

    While there is a lot to admire in Lesley Hazelton’s work, I’m not sure over-the-top sarcasm helps the cause of Muslim women athletes. I agree FIFA’s hijab ban is wrong, but the fact remains Iran signed an agreement with FIFA in 2010 to honor new rules permitting Muslim women to wear caps instead of hijabs. The caps do the same job as the hijab to cover the hair. While some Muslims argue the caps are insufficient because they don’t extend below the ear and cover the neck, not all Muslims are in agreement with this criticism. More and more sports organizations are banning the hijab without justification, but it’s a mistake to use the Iran Football Federation’s protests as an example of hijabophobia. Iran in 2010 agreed the caps were fine. In 2012, it broke its agreement. Iran, now Jordan, and yes, FIFA, are using the hijab as a political weapon. It’s offensive. But a sports club simply can’t sign an agreement, and then cry persecution when it doesn’t honor its promises.

  • Solid Snake

    That’s why I switched over to PES lol anyway I’ll go back to lurking…

  • mindy1

    Cool uniforms, and they seem perfectly safe. Let them play for god’s sake

  • Isma’il Abushams

    i assume Blatter has contacts with the Dutch conservative parties , they have special M.P.’s that shout something about Muslims whenever cuts are made or a member of government is caught with his hand i the cookie-jar , so you do something with the Iranian team and nobody remembers al the talk about corruption …

  • Al

    FIFA will get overruled

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