Muslim women are being driven away from soccer by FIFA’s ban of the hijab, with more likely to follow if rulemakers fail to reverse the decision at a meeting next month, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan told Reuters.
While physical Olympic sports such as rugby and taekwondo allow Muslim women to wear the headscarf in competition, soccer, the world’s most popular sport, remains against its use, citing safety concerns.
Last year the Iranian women’s soccer team were prevented from playing their 2012 Olympic second round qualifying match against Jordan because they refused to remove their hijabs before kick-off.
Iran had topped their group in the first round of Olympic qualifiers after going undefeated, however the Asian nation were given 3-0 defeats in their four second round matches because of their failure to comply with the rules, their dreams of competing in London abruptly ended.
“It is very important that everybody has the chance to play the sport that they love and obviously the laws of the games have to be amended to allow that,” Prince Ali, a FIFA vice-president, told Reuters in an interview in Singapore.
“I think that football, being the most popular sport in the world, accessible to all, we should take the lead on this issue and therefore that is what we are trying to pursue and hopefully we will get a pass from IFAB.”
Founded in 1886, IFAB, or the International Football Association Board, is soccer’s ultimate law-making body comprising four members from the sport’s world governing body, FIFA, and four from the British associations.
They will hold a meeting in England on March 3 where Prince Ali will present the case for allowing players to use a Dutch-designed Velcro hijab which comes apart if pulled and, he hopes, will remove safety concerns.
“As far as I’m concerned, I want to make sure and guarantee what it is - that football is for everyone,” said the Prince, who at 36 is the youngest member of FIFA’s all-powerful executive committee.
“If you look at other sports such as rugby, they are allowed to play so therefore we hope it will be the same case with football.”
A three-quarters majority is required for the proposal to be passed by IFAB, who first banned the hijab in 2007 when 11-year-old Asmahan Mansour was prevented from playing a match by the Quebec Soccer Federation after she refused to remove her headscarf.
“I do hope and do believe that if common sense does prevail all will be supportive of this, why not?
“I don’t like the politics, we are going straight to the point which is to allow all of our players to participate on all levels,” Prince Ali said.
In 2010, FIFA adjusted their rules to allow a cap that covers the players heads to the headline but did not extend below the ears to cover the neck.
Asked if he was concerned that Muslim women would turn away from the sport if IFAB fail to permit a full headscarf, Prince Ali said it may already be too late for some.
“Well I think already we have seen that, and I think that is very unfortunate. I think we need to give the right to (play) to everyone across the world and we have to respect each others cultures.”
FIFA’s reluctance to allow the full headscarf on concerns over safety appear overly strict. Prince Ali, who suggested long hair was more likely to cause injury on the field, said that his findings had not uncovered any hijab-related injuries in women’s soccer matches.
“If you want to have a fancy hairdo, or whatever (it doesn’t matter) just let them play and I think there are so many women out there who have the right to do this and participate in this sport.
“If you look at FIFA as well, they spend about 15 percent of their budget on developing women’s football but when it comes to playing at this level they are suddenly banned and we have to change that.”
While the campaign has royal approval, members of the Jordanian women’s team have used the modern day method of social networking to highlight the campaign.
A Facebook page called ‘let us play’ has been launched and attracted more than 30,000 ‘likes’, while the players have used national radio to also boost their message.
Prince Ali said he was confident that, with approximately 650 million headscarf wearers globally, the number of Muslim women playing soccer would rise on the back of the campaign if IFAB reversed their decision.
“I think definitely, definitely. Just give them the opportunity and let them make their choices. It is a game for the world − that’s what makes football what it is, it is a very, very special game and therefore we should allow full participation.”