INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — The Qatari women’s basketball team is still hoping for approval to play with their headscarves at the Asian Games, the chief of Qatar’s delegation said Thursday, though officials were expected to disqualify them if they don’t relent.
The dispute over the Qatari team’s refusal to remove their hijab — seen by some as a rule that discriminates against Muslim women — and their subsequent forfeit of a game against Mongolia has created a major stir at the games.
Although many sports allow hijabs — they are being worn at the games in everything from bowling to badminton — basketball’s world governing body does not allow them in international competitions. The issue reached an impasse on Wednesday, when the Qatari women forfeited against Mongolia after being told they could not wear the hijab in competition.
Khalil al-Jabir , the Qatar delegation chief, said the team would go to match and remained hopeful that a compromise would be reached to allow them to play. He said the team would also demand a make-up match for the game they forfeited. He said Thursday the team “was not likely to play” in the remainder of the basketball tournament if the hijab remains banned.
With the game against Nepal looming Thursday, there was little time for a deal to be reached unless FIBA , basketball’s international governing body, intervenes.
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.
The rules of each sport at the Asian Games are governed by their respective international federations, and many allow head coverings for certain athletes during competition, including badminton, shooting, track and field and football.
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 covers 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.