Sport is linked with education, employment and empowerment. So it’s deplorable that FIFA has banned the Iran girls’ football team from the Youth Olympics, says Katherine Azmeh.
In a mind-boggling announcement, the girls’ football team of Iran has effectively been banned from participating in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore later this year. The charge: wearing the Islamic headscarf.
FIFA, the world governing body for football, upheld the headscarf ban following a review undertaken at the request of Iran’s national Olympic committee. The ruling is apparently based on a stipulation in football’s international rule book that states “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements”.
While uniform rules for adolescents are certainly important, let’s look to another set of ‘rules’ as a point of comparison over the headscarf ruling.
In the US, Title IX of the Education Amendments law of 1972 stated that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.
One of the main impacts of the law was that federally funded US schools and colleges became obliged to provide the same sporting opportunities for girls as they do for boys. And nearly four decades later, economists have compiled extensive and convincing data to illustrate that increasing girls’ participation in sport has a direct and positive effect on their development.
So much stands to be gained by encouraging young women to pursue athletic prowess and competition: self-esteem, better health, education and employment. Studies have found that it leads to personal empowerment, tolerance, and sportsmanship.
There is no reason to believe these benefits would not be felt in Iran. Encouraging Muslim girls to engage in international athletic competitions suggests to them that personal power, discipline, and accomplishment can be fully realized whatever their religious, political, or societal background.
But the world’s governing body for football thinks that the minutiae of the uniform rules should trump all that. What a shame.