Few media outlets take the time to consider the particular way that FIFA makes things worse for women.
A few months ago, I reported on the slowly unfolding consequences of the decision of one xenophobic referee working in a youth tournament in Quebec (FIFA Makes its Islamophobia Official). This referee refused to allow an 11 year old girl play while wearing a headscarf, as per the practices of her religious community. Her team supported her, as did others in the tournament. An appeal was launched, and the IFAB (the board governing the official rule book) waffled by allowing each national association to set its own rules vis a vis its women's game.
The consequences of this problematic decision are unfolding in increasingly complex ways - most recently in relation to Iran's national women's team.
Athletic hijab is basic head covering worn by Muslim athletes all over the world, at every level of competition - including in the Olympics. It varies - some athletes will cover their skin head-to-toe, some with loose fitting track suits, some with form fitted bodysuits (worn underneath basic gear), some women wear athletic versions of headscarves.
The International Olympics Committee does not ban hijab. And it was at the Olympics that many of us were introduced to the idea of athletic hijab as we watched Bahrain's Ruqaya Al Ghasara (for example) compete on the track in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. She is not alone.
So it is ironic that the Iranian national women's team is at risk of not being able to participate in Olympic qualifying matches because FIFA is incapable of showing real leadership on this issue.
Sadly, FIFA runs the soccer part of the Olympics. The Iranian FA requires that its athletes compete in hijab. The team withdrew from their latest match against Jordan when an official declared that their uniforms (which had been the subject of negotiation previously, with FIFA eventually agreeing to allow the team to compete in a regional tournament only after much drama on both sides). (Read around the blogosphere and you'll see some credible hypotheses which suggest that this official's decision may have been motivated by a desire to see the Iranian team eliminated from competition.) Anyway, Iran has filed a complaint. To be clear: the women are between a rock and a hard place - Fifa's incoherent ruling, and the Iranian association's grandstanding (as it won't agree with the headcovering that Fifa has approved). One can hardly imagine the nightmare this induces for athletes and managers trying to work in the women's game in Iran.
In any case, this is another indication of FIFA's poor stewardship of the women's game. As I wrote in one of the comments for my original post on this issue, when you find yourself almost rooting for Iran's national association you know that something has gone horribly wrong.
Stories on this:
CNN Wire: World soccer officials defend hijab ban after Iranian team forfeits match
The Guardian: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasts Fifa 'dictators' as Iranian ban anger rises
Payvand News: Iran, FIFA Clash Over Hijab
NYT Goal Blog: Iran Protests Hijab Ban
Note: Before readers send me comments taking the moral high ground vis a vis Iran's national government (the pundit's equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel), and before readers send me rants which equate the whole of global sexism to the question of the "veil" - be warned, I won't publish most of that stuff. I rarely make this kind of warning in posts, but something about "the veil" makes people particularly reactionary. This post is - furthermore - ultimately - about the women athletes who are being put in this position, not only by Iran's state government (which requires full body coverage) but by FIFA and the IFAB's politicization of the participation of Muslim women athletes in the game.