Female Qatari players on the national basketball team walked away from a match against Mongolia today during the 2014 Asian Games after being ordered to take off their headscarves.
The Qatar Basketball Federation tweeted this afternoon that players wearing hijab were told that it was against International Basketball Federation (FIBA) regulations to wear the headscarf while playing the game.
The rules also prohibit the use hair accessories and jewelry in international competition.
— Qatar Basketball FD (@qatarbf) September 24, 2014
— Team Qatar (@qatar_olympic) September 24, 2014
The women refused to remove their scarves, saying it violated their religious beliefs.
Calling the ban unfair, head of Qatar’s women’s sports committee Ahlam Salem Al Mana told Reuters:
“We have to take this stand. We are here to push the international association that all Muslim teams are ready to compete in any competition. We knew about the hijab ban, but we have to be here. We have to show everyone that we are ready to play, but the International Association is not ready.”
In this video, Qatari team officials are shown explaining to Mongolia’s team why they cannot play against them.
The team – about half of which wears headscarves – is then seen walking off the court and preparing to leave the building in South Korea, as concerned fans look on.
Qatar sent a record 55 female players out of a contingent of 260 athletes to this year’s Asian Games – and not just as window dressing, according to delegation leader Khalil Al Jaber.
Earlier this week, AFP quoted him as saying: “These 55 are not just here to take part but to be among the top places.”
In 2012, Qatar sent its first female athletes to the Olympics in London.
The increasing participation of female athletes from the MENA region has contributed to a long-standing debate about wearing the hijab while playing sports.
According to Reuters, the headscarf has not banned in all sports played during the Asian Games.
FIBA itself said earlier this month that it would relax the rules related to headgear, but an Incheon Asian Games (IAGOC) spokesperson told the news service that he had not yet been informed of any possible changes.
Though Al Mana told media outlets that the team knew about the hijab ban but had been hoping to change FIBA’s mind, some of the players were not clear on the rules.
Qatari player Amal Mohamed A. Mohamed said that she was told that wearing the headscarf would be allowed. Speaking to Reuters, Mohamed said:
“I just don’t understand why we’re not allowed to play with the hijab. I don’t think the hijab is dangerous, and negatively influences the match or other players.
We’ve attended many international competitions in Indonesia and China. Therefore, we will not attend any games in this Asian Games unless the officials change their decision.”