Iranian Women’s Soccer Team Banned from Chance to Compete in Olympics because of the Wearing of Headscarves

Politics and sports and women. Again we have the intermingling of the powerful men in a world sports organization with women athletes and politics. Last week, in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan, FIFA (the world soccer governing body) officials refused to allow the Iranian national women’s team to compete in a match with Jordan because they were wearing headscarves that covered their necks.  Thus, Iran forfeited the game and lost out on any chance its women players would have to compete in the Olympics.

Iranian Women's Soccer Team with the "unsafe" head scarves

According to FIFA, the reason for the ban on wearing headscarves was “safety.” FIFA had implemented a new rule last year that allows women to wear “a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Of course, there is no logical reason why a cap that goes to the hairline is safe but a headscarf that goes to the neck is unsafe. And, so, why has FIFA implemented this rule? Well, as frequently happens with FIFA, no one seems to know the real reason. For example, FIFA supposedly has a rule that prohibits players from wearing clothing that has religious or political symbols.  However, as an exception to that rule, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Iran is certainly complicit in what has occurred. For example, it previously accepted the rule on headscarves when, last summer in Singapore, it had the players on one of its youth teams cover their heads but not their ears or necks.  Interestingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a soccer fan and has previously interjected himself into soccer disputes. He even, in 2006, lifted a ban on women watching soccer matches in Iranian stadia, but was overruled by “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei. Now, Ahmadinejad has vowed to “seriously confront” FIFA about the ban on headscarves.

The losers in all of this, of course, are the female athletes.  (Isn’t it always?)  They want to play soccer on the world stage and now cannot. According to Shahrzad Mozafar, the team’s former head coach, “This ruling means that women soccer in Iran is over. . . . Headscarves are simply what we wear in Iran.” She said that if FIFA no longer allows Iranian women to wear scarves, the Iranian government will no longer send them abroad for competitions.

Almost certainly, if you ask the players, they would say that it was their choice to forfeit the game because they cannot violate their religious tenets. But can anyone really believe that?  After all, the youth team competed without wearing regular head scarves. No, this is simply another case of patriarchal officials imposing religiosity on its citizens.

I have written previously that I concur with France’s decision to ban the burqa.  But wearing a head scarf is far less dehumanizing than wearing a burqa. It is tempting to think that forcing the women’s team out of international existence will cause Iran to change its patriarchal beliefs. Maybe some additional compromise can be reached. But I think the only realistic move that will allow these women to compete will be for FIFA to eliminate the rule.

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Update: French Lower House Passes Burqa Ban

An update to my post yesterday about the vote in the French Parliament to ban burqas: The French lower house today passed the bill by a 335 to 1 margin.  (335 to 1???)  The bill must still be approved by the French Senate, which is expected to vote in the week of September 20.

French Parliament to Vote Tomorrow on Proposed Burqa Ban

The day has finally come.  It has been more than a year since French President Sarkozy first proposed a ban on wearing burqas in public places.  Tomorrow, the French Parliament will vote on the proposal.

After some initial wavering, I came to my position on the proposed ban last July and have not changed my mind.  I think the French government should ban the burqa. I say that knowing that it is clear that that the proposal is anti-Islam and is intended as a means of slowing the growth of the Muslim population.  My position is that the wearing of the burqa is an assault on women’s rights and that it is more important to free women from the burqa than it is to adhere to concerns about freedom of religion or the freedom for a woman to wear anything she wishes.  Can anyone really believe that the wearing of a burqa is a free choice by the wearer?  As I quoted in that post:

Some women -even feminists–decree that the burka should be a personal choice. Some women, in fact, claim that they are set free from the unwanted stares of men under the burka. That freedom, alas, comes at a price–assent to a system that subordinates women in the public sphere and relegates them to purely domestic power. Feeling comfortable on the streets in a burka is too high a fee to pay for one’s own oppression, however unfair this seems. (Of course in countries where women are beaten if they appear in public without a burka, they have no choice but to wear it.)

The burka is a symbol of the male power to compel women to behave in ways that speak of men’s right to own female bodies and to restrict female action. It’s in the long line of dreary cultural artifacts that include foot binding, chastity belts, female circumcision, honor killings, concubinage, and the sex trade.

Unfortunately, most feminists, including my co-blogger Emily, disagree with me.  One article that does agree with me is this one today from Salon:Broadsheet.  The author first says: “You would be hard pressed to find an American feminist clamoring to see the burqa outlawed, and that perspective has certainly been absent from Broadsheet — until now.”  The article then gives the views of Mona Eltahawy, who is described as “an Egyptian-born journalist who calls herself ‘a liberal, a Muslim and a feminist.'”  Eltahawy agrees with me that the burqa should be banned.

Let’s see what happens tomorrow in the French Parliament.

Fashionable Burqas?

This blog has had a number of articles about burqas.  In particular, we have debated whether the ongoing wave in Europe to ban the burqa is justified.  But here’s an interesting twist for those women who choose (or are coerced by their family or culture) to wear a burqa.

Since 2007, an online store in California (zarinas.con) has been specializing in the sale of clothes and accessories from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Middle East.  Its clothing includes a line of burqas that are anything but the traditional burqas.  Take a look at the full line (below are a few of them) and tell me how, even with colors, any woman would wear one of these without being coerced.