Pressure to allow hijab in basketball mounts as decision looms

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(RNS) 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 the 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.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is also calling on FIBA to lift 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.

FIBA’s rules prohibit the wearing of “equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players” and explicitly rule out “headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry.” As a result, the headscarves that many Muslim women wear are banned, as well as Jewish yarmulkes and Sikh turbans.

A two-year trial period that started in 2014, allowing national federations to relax the rule, has been criticized as insufficient.

Some players, such as 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 soon afterward.

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

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