The Qatar women's basketball team forfeited a game at the Asian Games after being refused permission to wear the hijab, saying they were taking a stand against what they say is a discriminatory policy against Muslim women.

The Qatari players were asked, in accordance with International Basketball Federation's rules, to remove their headscarfs in order to play against Mongolia.

Waiting game

The team is "not likely to play basketball" in these Asian Games if the players are not allowed to wear the hijab.

"We were expecting our players to play with the hijab, that's why we came here,'' Khalil al-Jabir, Qatar's chef-de-mission, said. 

"Nobody told us that it will not be allowed and we are still waiting for clarifications.''

However, the players refused, saying it violated their religious beliefs and they wanted to send a strong message to the sport's governing federation that the ban was unfair.

"We have to take this stand," said Ahlam Salem M. Al-Mana of Qatar. "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."

Relaxed rules

Earlier this year, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) unanimously overturned a ban on the garments, allowing footballers to wear them.

Other sports at the Asian Games allow athletes to wear the hijab. All four members of the Iranian lightweight women's quadruple sculls team wore it as they rowed to a bronze medal on Wednesday.

Basketball remains one of the exceptions although FIBA said earlier this month that it had held discussions on the issue and was introducing a two-year 'testing phase' on what players can wear.

Current rules allow players to wear headbands no wider than five centimetres in order to hold back hair and sweat.

"Relaxing the current rules regarding headgear in order to enable national federations to request, as of now, exceptions to be applied at the national level within their territory without incurring any sanctions for violation of FIBA's Official Basketball Rules," read a FIBA press release.

Surprise

Qatari player Amal Mohamed A Mohamed said they had been assured they would be able to wear the hijab before they came to the Asian Games, which are being run under the slogan: "Diversity Shines Here".

"Before attending the Asian Games, we were told that we would be able to participate in matches by wearing a hijab," she said. "However, the organisers of the Asian Games said to us that players with the hijabcannot play today's match.

"Since we can't take that off to take part in the match because of our religion, we just forfeited the match with Mongolia.

"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."

Source: Reuters