Football’s world governing body has overturned a ban on female football players wearing headscarves, a decision quickly applauded by several Arab states.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) decided to end its 2007 ban on headscarves, which it had argued were unsafe and increased the risk of neck injuries.
New designs are secured with Velcro, which experts have said eliminates the risk of serious injury.
“This decision, impatiently awaited, makes us very happy,” said Sheikha Naima al-Sabah, the president of the women’s sporting committee for Kuwait’s football federation. “It brings justice to female players.”
The Kuwaiti women’s football team, like those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Bahrain, plays in various international competitions.
Oman does not field a women’s team, neither does Saudi Arabia, the most conservative of six monarchies in the Arabian Peninsula.
Sabah said FIFA’s decision establishes new “respect for different religions, with the veil ban being until now a barrier for Kuwaiti women”.
Iran has been one of the leading critics of the veil ban, especially since its women’s team was banned in 2011 from playing in a qualifier against Jordan for the London Olympics.
Adel Marzouq, the coach of the women’s football team in Bahrain, said the decision is “going to promote women’s sport in Arab and Islamic countries, which have top-notch soccer players who are unable to compete because of the veil ban”.
“This wise decision will encourage footballers to play their chosen sport without embarrassment,” he added.
In the UAE, women will from now on have the “chance to practice this sport with religious respect,” said Yussef Abdallah, the head of the country’s football federation.
In neighbouring Qatar, the tiny, gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 World Cup, and which encourages women’s sport, the sense of relief was clear.
“FIFA was assured that the headscarf doesn’t impact security, which will allow women footballers to freely practice their sport,” said Hani Ballan, Qatar’s technical advisor for women’s football.
“The number of women playing soccer is going to grow, along with the support of families, footballing federations and sporting bodies worried about Muslim identity.”