Arab women’s participation in world sports

Arab nations are set apart by borders geographically and legally, but restrictions on one nation often affect the neighboring countries. FIFA decreed a ban on Iranian women’s football team earlier last year. I found the  report very intriguing as Iranian women were denied the opportunity of representing their country at sports due to their covered heads and legs. The International Football Association defended themselves with their rule where “Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.” Their rationale cannot be ignored after all the chaos that the world has witnessed. However their stance for equality on field can simply crush the future of women’s participation in international sports from religiously-shaped Arab countries.

Gathered by the press coverage and popular local fiction, Iran is not a country where the women could have easily registered and received the flight tickets to FIFA grounds. Living in the middle east has provided me a perspective of the obstacles involved in women achieving success. The situation is drastically improving, but it is still under construction, the process slower in some countries than the rest. While many arab nation laws are shaped by religion, some like UAE appear more forgiving than the rest.

Islamic Republic of Iran mandates all women to wear the hijab in public arenas, including sports. However, FIFA cannot be blamed for their hesitation after all that the world has witnessed. So how does the situation resolve? Should the Iranian team pack up their bags and leave? Or should the FIFA reconsider their decision?

Sania Mirza, an indian tennis player with her own set of accolades, faced a similar situation where she was criticized for her attire by Indian Muslim clerics. They declared a fatwa against her short skirts on the tennis court while she defended herself with words of ‘victory’. Yet, in a country as diverse as India, the criticism only makes news and no real hindrance to her progress. Sania Mirza is currently the only Indian woman tennis player to have ranked in the Top 50 WTA. However, not all nations compromise on such anomalies even if it provides international recognition.

After responses from the UN, FIFA’s Vice President Prince Ali, and voices around the world to reverse the ban, the International Football Association has decided to reconsider. A Dutch-designed head scarf with velcro-clasps is being tested as a safer option. The verdict of this trial will be announced in July. A velcro-based head scarf will decide the future of Arab nations’ participation in women’s sports or crush the dreams of many hopefuls aiming for a career in sports.

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