The Story Behind the Successful #FIBAAllowHijab Movement

Justin Lyons
May 4, 2017 · 5 min read

Today, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) approved a rule change to permanently give players the ability to wear religious headwear during competition after a three-year movement on helped turn global awareness into action on this cause. The rule will go into effect in October.

FIBA said in a statement: “The new rule comes as a result of the fact that traditional dress codes in some countries — which called for the head and/or entire body being covered — were incompatible with FIBA’s previous headgear rule.”

What the new rule does: FIBA says the new rule will allow for headgear under certain circumstances:

  • It is black or white, or of the same dominant color as that of the uniform
  • It is one same color for all players on the team (as all accessories)
  • It does not cover any part of the face entirely or partially (eyes, nose, lips etc.)
  • It is not dangerous to the player wearing it and/or to other players
  • It has no opening/closing elements around the face and/or neck
  • It has no parts extruding from its surface

How we got here: Petitions started on by Bosnian-American Muslim basketball player Indira Kaljo and Indian Sikh businessman RPS Kohli in 2014 paved the way for FIBA to first adopt a two-year testing period of the rule. Read more about their journey together here in this 2016 blog post.

Those victorious petitions helped spur the birth of the #FIBAAllowHijab movement on led by 15 women basketball players from around the world (United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Botswana, Sweden) who fought for this rule change with more than 130,000 supporters worldwide.

Why it matters: This rule long prevented basketball players who wore religious head-covering (hijab, turban, yarmulkes, etc.) to have the opportunity to play professionally or for their country teams with the chance to do so. Often times, these players were faced with the choice of choosing between their religious beliefs and the passion for the game, which in some cases limited their job pursuits and road-blocked their dreams to represent their countries.

FIBA had long maintained that the reason for the rule was to protect the safety of all those in competition. FIBA’s rule 4.4.2 stated that: Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players. It did not permit headgear, hair accessories or jewelry. In May 2014, FIBA offered a deeper explanation of the rule: “The wearing of a headscarf — just like any other object or accessory to be worn on the player’s head — is not authorised in an official competition.”

What they’re saying: Today’s news has included media coverage of this three-year campaign. You can read more about this movement and the impact in these recent media articles.

What this means for the players:

Indira reflects on the victory: “This decision means everything to me. When I started the first petition in the summer of 2014 when I first started wearing hijab, I had to make a decision between my faith and the sport I love. [A] feeling no single person should ever have to feel. It is wonderful that since 2014, when we first got 70,000 votes and now with this movement that I started with so many other hijabi players that I have met over the last two years has reached over 130,000 signatures. People are sharing our stories and… FIBA making a final decision to approve the hijab shows that we [have] taken a positive step to inclusivity of all, and I am honoured and humbled.”

Asma Elbadawi of the United Kingdom: “I am really pleased because this really changes the game on and off the court. And in many ways history, too. It’s created opportunities for Muslim women who were already playing at high levels to compete professionally, and it will now mean young Muslim girls will also have positive role models who look like them and who they are more likely to be influenced by since they share similar backgrounds and beliefs to them in the future in the WNBA and and other professional basketball leagues across the world.”

Nigerian Kike Salihu Rafiu, who wore a headscarf as a Georgetown basketball player: “I think using that platform did open the eyes of FIBA in realising that there’s a huge community that wants to participate in the sport and this rule is actually stopping us from participating professionally and representing our country.”

From German basketball player Yara Nabawi: “I’ve been waiting so long for this, and now that it’s finally happening it just feels surreal. It’s been one heck of a ride on an emotional rollercoaster, but the ride was most definitely worth it. I am simply overwhelmed with joy. And not just because I will finally be able to get back on the court, but for the mere fact that anyone with love and passion for this game will be able to participate, no questions asked, and honestly that’s what it was all about for me — the love of the game and the fight for what you love.”

Raabya Pasha from the United Kingdom: “Lifting this ban is a chance for young women/girls to gain more interest in playing sports like basketball. They will hopefully see players who look like them (women wearing hijab) play basketball at the highest level (whether that be nationally or internationally) and get inspired to do the same. This may inspire the younger generation to pick up a ball and start dribbling. The only barrier they’ll have now will be the opposition they face on the court.” Staff on Empowering Citizens in the Trump Era and Beyond

Justin Lyons

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Powered by the people. Director, North America Campaigns at @change. Staff on Empowering Citizens in the Trump Era and Beyond

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