Qatar withdraws from Asian Games in hijab row

Women’s basketball team pulls out of tournament after international body refuses to allow team to play wearing hijabs.

The wearing of hijabs has become a big topic in sport in recent years [Reuters]

Qatar has pulled out of the women’s basketball competition at the Asian Games after refusing to abide by international regulations preventing them from wearing hijabs.

The Qatari players had been asked to remove their hijabs before their opening group game against Mongolia on Wednesday, but chose to forfeit the match instead.

According to International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules, Article 4.2.2 dictates players cannot wear “headgear, hair accessories and jewellery”. 

With no sign of the rule being relaxed ahead of their scheduled match against Nepal on Thursday, Qatar decided to withdraw from their remaining games at the 17th Asiad, which is being run under the slogan: “Diversity Shines Here”.

“We have decided not to take part in the remainder of the Asian Games women’s basketball competition,” an assistant with Qatar’s National Olympic Committee told Reuters news agency by telephone.

Nepal’s players took the court for 15 minutes at the Samsan World Gymnasium, passing and shooting among themselves, before the forfeit was announced.

Both Qatar games were recorded as 20-0 defeats on the Games’ official website.

Discrimination allegations

The wearing of hijabs has become a big topic in sport in recent years, with Muslim athletes complaining that they are being discriminated against. 

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

by Qatari player Ahlam Salem M Al-Mana

Judoka Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani hit the headlines at the 2012 London Olympics when Saudi Arabia demanded she be allowed to compete wearing a hijab.

While international judo federation rules at the time barred her from doing so, Shaherkani was eventually allowed to compete wearing a modified veil.

Competition at the Asian Games is conducted under the regulations of the sports’ international governing bodies, meaning athletes in other sports are free to wear hijabs.

All four bronze medal-winning rowers of Iran’s lightweight women’s quadruple sculls team wore hijabs on Wednesday, while Kuwait’s Najlaa I M Aljerewi and Iran’s Aghaei Hajiagha Soraya wore them in the triathlon and badminton events on Thursday.

Basketball remains the exception.

FIBA said earlier this month it had held discussions on the issue and was introducing a two-year ‘testing phase’ on what players can wear, though that only applies at the national level, not international competitions such as the Asian Games.

Taking a stand

An official from Incheon’s organising committee had sympathy for the Qatari players but said the Games had to follow FIBA’s regulations and that their hands were tied.

“There is not much IAGOC can do to help the Qatari players.We can’t change FIBA regulations right now even if we consult with them,” the official told Reuters by telephone. 

“Personally I feel sorry for them. All the other sports allow hijabs.” 

The situation has left Qatari athletes confused and angry.

“We have to take this stand,” said Qatari player Ahlam Salem M Al-Mana on Wednesday. “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.”

The Asian Games, which prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness, has brought 9,500 athletes from 45 countries to Incheon to compete in the world’s second biggest multi-sports event after the Summer Olympics.

Source: Reuters