Playing the game, wearing hijab: Game of Our Lives Episode 3

In the third episode of Game of Our Lives, host David Goldblatt discusses the fight for equality in football, FIFA’s ban on head scarves, and the existing power structures within the beautiful game with Shireen Ahmed.

    Who is football for?

    As one of the most popular sports on the planet, a major part of the game's global appeal is that it's believed to be available to all. Yet, a dive into the origins of football tells a different story.

    "The history of football can be read in part as the history of exclusion, and then the demand for inclusion," says Game of Our Lives host David Goldblatt, in reference to the game's creation in mid-19th century England.

    "A game invented and controlled by the privileged white men of Victorian England was never going to become the world's universal sport unless that was demanded and insisted on."

    In the third episode of Game of Our Lives, a new podcast from Al Jazeera, Goldblatt is joined by Shireen Ahmed for a conversation about how far the world of football has come, and what work still needs to be done to make it a truly universal game.

    Ahmed is a writer, public speaker, and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports. She's the host of a feminist sports podcast called "Burn It All Down", and runs the blog "Tales From a Hijabi Footballer".

    Ahmed says she was in her second year of college at the University of Toronto, in the late 1990s, when she informed her football coach that she would begin wearing a headscarf.

    "I called her up and told her that this was what's happening. She said, 'You know, thank you for coming out,' and effectively that ended my career," Ahmed says.

    "At the time, very specifically there was no rule by FIFA to ban hijab, but there was also no rule to allow it."

    An official ban on the hijab (the hijab is a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion), on the pitch did come, years later, in 2007, when FIFA declared they didn't want any symbols of religious significance worn during a game.

    Later, FIFA announced the ban was actually a matter of safety, a claim for which Ahmed says there is no evidence.

    "And it wasn't just Muslim women," she says. "Don't forget it was Sikh men as well, and their turbans, and it was Jewish men that choose to wear kippah. It was all of those communities."

    The FIFA ban lasted seven years.

    When it was lifted, Ahmed remembers exactly where she was and how she felt: "All the energy, all the adrenaline in campaigning and reading about it and feeling about it."

    "I was exhausted. Because this is not a fight that needed to happen."

    You can hear the full conversation between Goldblatt and Ahmed in the player above. Then, visit Game of Our Lives to learn more about the exclusion of women in football stadiums in Iran, and the ongoing resistance to change the policy. 

    Follow the show on Twitter and Instagram at @gameofourlives.

    Subscribe for free on Apple PodcastsStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also listen on our Facebook page.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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