Indira Kaljo, a Bosnian-American professional basketball player, as seen in her video promoting a petition to allow hijab during FIBA competitions. Screenshot/Courtesy of Amber Fares via YouTube

Pressure to allow hijab in basketball mounts as decision looms

By  Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service
  • August 12, 2016

Something you won’t see in sun-worshipping, skin-baring Rio de Janeiro as the 2016 Olympics continue: women covering their heads on the basketball court.

But pressure to change that is growing due to a campaign demanding the International Basketball Federation, the body that governs the sport, drop its rule banning hijab for Muslim women players by the end of the month.

“It’s time that every single person in this world is allowed to play irregardless of their religion where they come from and who they are,” Indira Kaljo, a hijab-wearing Bosnian-American professional basketball player says in a video thanking the 70,000 people who signed her petition supporting the change. “Sport is for everyone; let’s not exclude anyone.”

Tuesday (Aug.9) The Council on American-Islamic Relations reiterated its support for lifting the ban.

“The only determining factors for athletic participation should be skill and hard work, not what is worn on one’s head,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director.

The effort concerns a FIBA rule prohibiting the wearing of “equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.” That includes hijab, the headscarf that covers the head and neck, or is worn as a turban, the Jewish yarmulke and the Sikh turban.

Some players, like the NCAA’s Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, have given up the sport rather than the hijab. Entire teams have been banned from playing, including Qatar’s women’s team at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, lifted its ban on hijab two years ago. Kaljo, who plays for Bosnia-Herzegovina, began her campaign via Change.org soon afterwards.

It quickly captured almost 70,000 signatures and in Sept. 2014 FIBA announced a two-year study period. The campaign his social media with the hashtag #FibaAllowHijab.

A second petition started by Abdul-Qaadir generated 90,000 signatures.

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