INCHEON, South Korea – Qatari basketballers are leaving it to Asian Games organizers to either let them wear hijabs in the women’s competition or disqualify the team for refusing to comply with international rules.
The dispute over the Qatari players’ refusal to remove their hijabs — regarded by some as a rule that discriminates against Muslim women — and the subsequent forfeit of their opening game against Mongolia has created a major stir at the games.
Qatar was due to play Nepal on Thursday afternoon local time, leaving little time for a compromise to be reached unless FIBA , basketball’s international governing body, intervenes.
Khalil al-Jabir , the Qatar delegation chief, said the team would prepare for the match and remained hopeful that a solution could be found before tipoff. He said the team would also demand a make-up match for the forfeited game. He said Thursday the team “was not likely to play” in the remainder of the basketball tournament if the hijab remains banned.
“We’re not forfeiting games — we’re not being allowed to play,” al-Jabir said. “On the one hand everyone wants more women to participate in these games and on the other hand they’re discouraging Muslim women who want to play in hijab.”
Although sports ranging from bowling to badminton allow hijabs to be worn during Asian Games competition, basketball’s world governing body does not allow them in international competition. The issue reached an impasse on Wednesday, when the Qatari women forced the issue by forfeited against Mongolia after being told they could not wear the hijab in competition.
Asian Games officials said they did not receive any instructions from FIBA to allow head coverings, and were simply following the rules which restrict the use of headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry. Such restrictions were initially designed for the safety of players, but have recently been challenged on cultural and religious grounds.
Regulations about head coverings in basketball came into focus this year when two male Sikh players from India were told to remove their turbans during the Asia Cup in July in China .
Earlier this month, FIBA said it was launching a two-year trial phase allowing some players to wear head coverings.
However, the Swiss-based FIBA issued a clarifying statement saying it “allows exceptions to be applied only at the national level and the Asian Games is an international event.”
To get an exemption for domestic tournaments, national federations must petition FIBA to allow players to play with their heads covered, plus submit follow-up reports twice a year.
FIBA’s governing body will evaluate the rule again next year, and determine whether to allow head coverings at some level of international competition from next summer.
A full review in 2016 will decide if it will become a permanent rule change after the 2016 Olympics.
AP Sports Writer C.Rajshekhar Rao contributed to this report.