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From the looks of it, Fifa is taking the upper hand in solving soccer's Hijab issue once and for all. As soccer is more and more celebrated and cherished around the globe, there are still thousands of female athletes, particularly in Islamic countries of Asia, deprived of pursuing their passion for soccer at the highest stage because of their choice of clothing.
As per Fifa’s mandate, Islamic headscarves - which cover female athletes wearing full tracksuits, head coverings and neck-warmers - cause safety concerns for soccer officials. Up until now, their outfit was also outlawed by Fifa, whose statement on the issue read: "The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political, religious or personal slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser or by Fifa."
However, thanks to its Jordanian vice-president pushing for a change, Fifa is moving towards more inclusiveness to allow women to wear Islamic headscarves, even with neck warming apparel, during soccer games.
In June, the Iran women's team caused a storm when they forfeited an Olympic qualifier against Jordan after being refused permission to play with the full Islamic headscarf - rules in the extremely conservative Islamic Republic dictate that female soccerers must wear full tracksuits as well as the head covering, which only leaves their eyes, nose and mouth uncovered.
In a recent seminar funded by Asian soccer Development Project commission, all participants, including Fifa vice-presidents, agreed on a proposal that “Hijab is not a religious symbol or statement and rather is in abidance with culture, and discrimination and exclusiveness of players are to be avoided because of cultural costumes. While safety of Hijab should be considered a priority for Fifa, further medical studies are needed with Fifa co-ordination, in regards to aesthetic arguments and type of material.”
Fifa vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein will bring the issue up at the meeting of the executive committee in December for a final vote by the game's governing body.
The green light shown by Fifa to Muslim female soccer players have surely been welcomed as it now allows them to pursue their dreams while no longer facing sanctions. Whether the headscarf is a symbol of religion or culture is still up for debate. It should follow that there is a discussion of the competitive equality between those women soccerers wearing headscarves, neck-warmers and full tracksuits and other professional soccerers playing with just shirts and shorts. Given similar physical conditions, in terms of stamina level, can the head-covered group endure on a par with the second group during a competitive game?
These questions and concerns are expected to be addressed and fully studied by Fifa officials before the final verdict. Given the history of Hijab-related crises resulting in sanctions of several – otherwise talented - Asian teams and squads in the past, there may be no other way of solving the dispute.
For years, women players of Islamic majority nations were isolated and had to showcase the beautiful game in their own fashion. Their own male-oriented soccer officials would not comply and would not care to change their national dress code for the sake of soccer games either, as they see no benefits in women pursuing the game professionally.
All the while, every time a crisis emerges, Fifa is used as scapegoat, while the victims of the disputes were actually professional women players whose dreams had no border. It seems, Fifa, even for the sake of healing their own damaged PR reputation in the aftermath of these cases, is attempting to make this dispute history.
However, no matter which angle one looks at it from, this new inclusiveness of covered women soccer players will surely empower these passionate athletes to finally showcase their talent alongside the likes of Japan, Germany, USA and France. For all of them, the soccer pitch is a field of dreams. They want to be there to live their dreams.