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.


Soccer, Golf, Tiger Woods, and Martha Burk

There have been some interesting reports lately about women and sports.

The Asian Football Confederation (the governing body sanctioned by FIFA to control soccer in the Asia region), has ruled that the Iran girls’ soccer team cannot compete in the six-nation soccer tournament in Singapore that is part of the 3,600 athlete Youth Olympics.  The reason given is that the Iranian girls had intended to wear hijab scarves and, supposedly, the FIFA rules relating to on-field equipment does not allow such “equipment” to be worn.  That sounds ridiculous to me.    The FIFA equipment rules are intended to keep a player from obtaining a competitive advantage and to prevent injuries from happening.  Surely, wearing hijab is not a safety issue to others and will not create a competitive advantage for the Iranian players.   (It will, of course, be a detriment to the girls wearing the hijab since they will not be able to see clearly.)  In addition, even if there is technical language in the rules pertaining to what can be worn on the face while playing, an exception could be made.  After all, I would imagine that the Iranian girls also wear leggings and shirts that cover most of their legs and arms and FIFA allows that.   Even though I think that the wearing of the hijab and burqa is the result of patriarchal cultures and that women would not wear them of their own accord if given a well-informed choice, this sounds like pure discrimination.

In golf, there are all sorts of things wrong about what is going on at the Masters and with Tiger Woods.  Under normal circumstances, I would probably watch some of the final rounds and would probably be rooting for Woods.  But how can I given what Woods has done, how he has comported himself during his “rehabilitation,” how everything is still all about his image, corporate sponsorships and, of course, money, and how the media are providing wall-to-wall coverage.  And, in the last few days, that disgusting Nike commercial is beyond belief.  Anyone who believes that Woods is contrite is deluding herself or himself.

All of the Woods nonsense is happening at the (still) misogynist, good-ole-boys, exclusionary Augusta National golf club that was able to continue to be profitable even after Martha Burk (of the National Council of Women’s Organizations) led an ultimately unsuccessful boycott of the event in 2003.  And now I hear that Burk has spoken out against Woods and has received death threats because of it.  This is what she said:

“[The Masters is] the perfect place for a misogynist like Tiger to come back out in public.  Those guys are all anti-women one way or another.  Tiger has shown it pretty starkly.  He will be welcomed. There won’t be any sanctions on him.  They will protect him very, very strongly.

When asked this week about her comments, Burk reiterated:

I think I said I am suspicious of the timing of his apology.  Gee, isn’t it interesting that’s it right before the Masters and he gets back into golf with a very high-profile tournament. I questioned his sincerity. I still do.

(By the way, when Burk was organizing the 2003 boycott, she received support from many of the players.  However, Woods refused to support her.  He said: “They’re [Burk] asking me to give up an opportunity to do something no one has ever done in the history of the Masters, to win three straight years.”)

Burk has no plans to watch Woods’ comeback, saying: “Why would I want to watch some philanderer who is exhibiting some fake contrition to get back into golf?”  I think I’ll join her in not watching.

However, there is some good news pertaining to golf.  In 2007, Elaine Joyce sued a public golf course on Cape Cod because it would not let her (a very competitive golfer) compete against men in a tournament.  She argued that women should have the same rights as men to play on a public course.  Last week, a federal judge ruled that the club violated the law.  It will now have a trial to determine the amount of damages and fees that should be awarded to her.  She is seeking damages of $500,000.