Friday, April 16, 2010

Best Present Ever - Cereal Box, Celebrating US's 1999 World Cup Victory!

This scarcely needs comment - a US Soccer Golden Goals cereal box. A friend just bought it as a thank you present, she spied it at a shop which just bought up a collection of commemorative cereal boxes. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Al Jazeera Story about Iran's women's team & a follow up to last week's post

Watch this very informative story from Al Jazeera.

Reaction to last week's post about football and hijab has been caught up in the veil (represented by some commentators as the first step in a "slippery slope to fundamentalism").  Some readers seem to have lost sight of the story at hand: whether FIFA's support of the ban against headscarves specifically, and hijab more broadly, makes sense.

In looking for models for more productive discussion of the question of headscarves and football, I've been reading over some academic work on the veil debate, and find myself compelled by discussions about the local complexities of hijab. In last week's comments section I pointed to a June conference in Canada - I'm inspired by the abstracts for papers to be presented at that conference, some of which center on practical questions like Heather Marie Akou's query, "to what degree does this [athletic hijab] create new stereotypes concerning what the 'proper' Muslim female athlete should look like?" ("Islamic Swimsuits" Filling a Need or Creating a New One?"), and by Rikke Andreassen's suggestion that we ask "in which specific moments and spaces are veils destabilizing [or not]?"("Destabilizing Effects of the Veil(s) - Examples from Contemporary Europe", and then there is Ipek A. Celik's interrogation of the association of the veil with "passive victimhood" and a "failure to integrate" in a paper that explores how the liberal marketplace produces this narrative for popular consumption ("Veiled Women's Narratives as Marketable Commodities").

Clearly, hijab has a destabilizing effect in relation to FIFA's regulating presence in international women's soccer. FIFA makes football a global game by making it look the same - by imposing a conformity on the game in order to allow each nation's football culture appear to be interchangeable with every other nation's football culture - perhaps should I say market, here, instead of culture?

Why do women provoke so much trouble in regulating the game, in making the game "uniform"? Why does the female athlete provoke such a challenge that for decades women were prohibited from playing it at all in countries like England, Germany and Brazil? What exactly is so dangerous about a headscarf-wearing soccer player?

Perhaps one of the reasons why some people can't stand the idea of women playing in headscarves is that images of Muslim women playing this physically demanding sport in hijab challenges a world-view that needs to see the Muslim woman only in terms of radical victimization, and as a completely powerless and passive body.

Surely there must be room here for a non-hysterical conversation about more complex processes - for a discussion, for example, of the impact of the normalization of hijab in sports on Muslim women athletes more broadly, or, alternatively, of the ways that some uses of hijab in sport may disrupt discourse on hijab (and gender) in significant and unanticipated ways.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

FIFA Makes Its Islamophobia Official & Bans Iranian Women for Donning the Hijab

Iran's National Women's Football Team, 2007
FIFA has declared that Iran can't enter its women's team into this August's Youth Olympic Games if its athletes play in headscarves.  Iran's football association is calling for international protest - quite rightly.

This decision comes from the International Football Association Board, which is made up of representatives of the four UK Football Associations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) and FIFA, which itself has four votes in these decisions. One can imagine what that boardroom looks like - Sith Lords of Soccer, Imperial Experts in Sexism and Islamophobia.

In making this ruling, the IFAB is hiding behind Rule 4, regarding player equipment. This is an arbitrary interpretation and application of FIFA's rules against wearing uniforms with personal political or religious statements ("compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements").  Obviously, national uniforms frequently carry both political and religious meaning (Israel, anyone?). We often watch players cross themselves furiously before taking penalties - why not ban that gesture from the pitch? The demand that these women either remove their headscarves or withdraw from the competition is itself a strong statement about religion and politics.

Women athletes have worn the hijab in Olympic events at least since 2004 when Bahrain's Ruqaya Al Ghasara took the track - in 2008, she made headlines wearing a "hijood," a breathable form-fitting hood designed specifically for athletes.

Soccer players have been allowed to compete in international tournaments recognized by FIFA while wearing a variety of uniforms that meet their needs. Below is a photograph from January's South Asia Games - here the Indian national team competes against a Pakistani team outfitted in stylish green uniforms and headscarves.

CNN published a story about November's historic match between Palestine and Jordan. This match was celebrated as a step forward for women's football in the region and featured a few players wearing long pants and sleeves, headscarves or fitted caps. Muslim women athletes across the world adjust their gear to fit their needs, compete in international tournaments, and this should be encouraged. (See the blog Muslim Women in Sports.)

This ruling is yet another instance of imperialist and patriarchal meddling and it betrays the shallowness of FIFA's investment in developing the international women's game, as well as the profound hypocrisy of FIFA's pretence to being "above" politics.  At least now they've made their Islamophobia official.

This seems like a fine moment to recall Sepp Blatter's most famous statement about the women's game:
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts."
Fuck that. I'll take headscarves and lime green tracksuits over that bullshit anyday.

[April 4: Follow up - Some articles on this topic point to a 2007 IFAB/FIFA ruling supporting a Canadian referee's ejection of 11-year old Asmahan Mansour from a match for wearing a hijab. The referee claimed it was a "safety" issue (on the grounds that she might be strangled!). Quebec's Soccer Association does ban the hijab as part of a broad ban against "the Islamic veil or any other religious item." Which is I guess a safety issue in a world that imagines a terrorist under every turban, and behind every veil. Her team and four others withdrew from the tournament in support ("Hijab debate gets political in Canada").

That same 2007 IFAB decision left room for football associations to make their own decisions about the hijab - apparently only as long as those FAs cooperate with FIFA's worldview. For more - see "Hijab Ban Belongs in the Sin Bin" from the excellent Muslim Women in Sports.]
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