So this is annoying: The Iranian women’s soccer team has no chance of qualifying for the Olympics because their uniforms (specifically their Islamic headscarves) break FIFA’s dress code. Depending on who you ask, they weren’t told that their tight headscarves would not be allowed until minutes before kickoff in a qualifier game against Jordan (FIFA disputes this), so they were only left with the choice to play without their hijabs or forfeit. And I think we all know that's not really a choice at all.
You might be totally annoyed at FIFA right now, especially if you’ve been following this story elsewhere. After all, most news outlets are pairing this story with FIFA’s rules for the 2012 Olympics that state, "Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits."
But here’s the thing. While Iranian women (including athletes who compete internationally) are required to follow the Islamic dress code, which means covering their hair, neck, arms and legs, FIFA’s rule about headscarves actually does not derive from their rule about religious garb. Rather, FIFA has banned ALL scarves that cover the neck, including neck warmers, due to safety issues (mainly the possibility of choking).
In fact, FIFA actually made an agreement with Iran a few years ago that the Iranian women’s team could wear a headdress so long as it didn’t cover the neck and ears. The Iranian girls' team played with those in the 2010 Youth Olympics. (Note: FIFA also allows protective headgear, but those also aren’t allowed to cover the neck and ears.) However, despite this agreement (which does seem a little weird since it leaves their necks exposed which is not kosher in Iran), the women still came out to play their qualifying match against Jordan with their necks and ears covered. The team said they were in line with the guidelines. FIFA disagreed.
Now you’re probably annoyed at the Iranian government who forces this stringent dress code upon all of the women who live in Iran. But, let’s be real. Some of those women would adhere to the dress code regardless of it was a government law because it’s one of the Islamic tenets. So had the team designed a cap that covered their head, but not their ears and necks, would they have worn it? Who knows.
All I know is that now the Iranian women don’t have a chance to compete in the 2012 Olympics and that seriously sucks. But I'm not quite sure who to blame. So please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section--and set me straight if there's something here I'm misunderstanding.
And what can we do to ensure that all athletes, regardless of religion or race, have a chance to participate internationally? Although if you have the answer to that, maybe you should be applying for a Nobel Peace Prize (since that’s totally something you apply for) and not leaving comments on xoJane. Or at the very least doing both.