The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) recently imposed a ruling banning all male spectators from female netball matches.

Fathers, brothers and sons now can’t watch their wives, sisters and mothers take part in netball tournaments in Malaysia's north-eastern Kelantan state which has been ruled by an Islamic party for more than two decades.

The ruling has come under attack from sports officials and activists who have denounced it as "ill-conceived” move that will hurt the progress of sports in Malaysia.

The ruling also added that all players aged 18 to 25 - including non-Muslims - have to wear full-sleeves tshirts and loose track bottoms, the matches will take place indoors and all Muslim players are required to put on a headgear.

"The ruling is to promote the growth of Islam which aims to create a generation of people with the excellent virtues," Ramli Mamat, Kelantan-state youth development, sports and non-government organisation committee chairman, told Al Jazeera.

It is the players who requested this ruling because they feared exposing their bodies while playing

Ramli Mamat, Kelantan state official

"It is the players who requested this ruling because they feared exposing their bodies while playing. If any man insists on watching the game, I will personally come and explain.”

Sponsorship woes

Kelantan is a poor rural state with a majority Muslim-Malay population. Netball is a popular sport among women in Malaysia and they country is trying to catch up with its Asian neighbours.

The Malaysian Netball Association feels the move is against the aspiration of the association and "will stop the development of the sport".

"We’re working hard to make netball more inclusive,” association president Suraiya Yaacob said. “When you restrict people based on gender, it will hurt the sponsorship because that depends on how many people watch the game. Banning spectators is not right for the athletes even.

“I play netball myself and I’d want my father, brothers and friends to come and watch.”

Yacoob also pointed out that while restrictions have been placed in domestic events, the international competitions still witness players wearing skirts and tight t-shirts.

Gender division

The issue of gender division in the PAS-led state had long been a controversial one. It had previously banned female hairdressers from attending to male customers. Separate queues at supermarkets, separate public benches, gambling ban and restriction on public performances by women if the presence of males have been some of the restrictions put in place.

Malaysia's national netball player Nuruladha Abu Bakar, who has been playing the sport since she was 12, flayed the spectator ban and added that individuals should be allowed to decide on the choice of attire.

"Netball doubles up as a family event and there’s no need to impose restrictions against male spectators,” she said. “When I play, I want my family to watch. The choice needs to be yours really. While I do wear a loose, long body suit, I don't wear a headgear when playing because it’s uncomfortable.”

Consequences

Sieh Kok Chi, Olympic Council of Malaysia's secretary-general, is disgusted by the ban as well and told Al Jazeera that it was seen as ‘discouragement for the promotion of the sport’.

"What if something happens when a school-girl is playing and her father or brothers are not present?” Sieh noted. “What if the child is injured, who is then going to be responsible? This will force some people not to take up netball.”

Malaysia will “now become a laughing stock”, according to Peter Velappan, former General Secretary of the Asian Football Confederation, who added that the ban looked set to kill the sport in the country.

A request has been put in for Kelantan authorities to review their "absurd" decision, adding that playing in an empty stadium was not going to inspire nor promote netball in Malaysia.

But while a decision is awaited, the ban is already influencing proceedings.

Source: Al Jazeera