INCHEON, South Korea: Basketball’s world governing body said Friday it could start next year to ease a ban on headgear in international competitions that has led Qatar’s women’s team to forfeit two matches at the Asian Games.
But the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) strongly denied there was any “religious connotation” in the longstanding ban.
Qatar say their women are being deliberately stopped from wearing hijab scarves used by many Muslim women in sport.
The Qatar women have already missed matches against Mongolia and Nepal at the Asian Games in South Korea. They say they are being prevented by FIBA from wearing hijabs. They are expected to forfeit another game against Kazakhstan on Friday.
In response to the controversy, FIBA said Qatar sports authorities knew of the ban before the team left to compete.
FIBA’s executive decided this year to allow countries to apply for an exemption to the ban for national contests as part of a two year review of the dress regulations.
A FIBA statement said: “International tests may be initiated as of summer 2015.”
“FIBA’s regulations apply on a global scale and without any religious connotation,” said the statement.
“While certain groups have interpreted the provisions of the official basketball rules as a ban against the participation of players of certain faiths in basketball competitions, the uniform regulations are of a purely sporting nature.”
“These regulations were enacted 20 years ago without any other sort of considerations than sports-related ones and without any major complaints until very recently.”
The governing body added that the “recent complaints have led FIBA to initiate a revision process.” But it did not say whether this meant its review of dress regulations would be speeded up.
“FIBA regrets that a delegation was sent to the Asian Games with uniforms that do not conform to the official basketball regulations,” the statement went on, without naming Qatar.
“All national member federations are aware of the official basketball regulations,” the body stressed.
Qatar’s women players have slammed the ban.
“This is an insult to us, they did not respect our religion,” Qatar forward Refaa Morjan Mohammed told AFP, adding that the team had worn the headscarf in Arab Championships without problems.
The Qatar women said they had expected to be able to wear a hijab when they arrived in Korea and only found out when they arrived at the Incheon stadium that it was still banned.
Centre Amal Mohamed Awad, 28, warned that basketball would suffer in Middle East countries unless FIBA had a change of heart.
“I ask the concerned authorities to let us play with the hijab — there are many Arab countries that want to participate but are reluctant to do so because of the laws of the International Basketball Federation,” she said.
The Qatar squad has five players who wear a hijab and six who do not.
FIBA faces growing pressure to fall into line with many other sports, including football, and allow the headscarf.
FIFA, football’s world body, changed its rules this year.
Qatar has also had support from the Olympic Council of Asia, whose director general Husain Al-Musallam said the athletes’ rights should be the “highest priority”.