Fashion Bytes

Image via Washington Post

It was announced last Monday that the Iranian Women’s Soccer Team had been forced to forfeit their chance to play in the 2012 Summer Olympics due to their wearing of hijab and long pants – rather than shorts – on the pitch, which is a violation of FIFA regulations. FIFA has given two reasons for the headscarf ban, one being for safety (they had determined that the hijab, like the snood, created a choking hazard), the other being that FIFA wished to ban all symbols of religious affiliation from the field. An alternate head covering was offered to Muslim women which would cover their heads while lessening the risk of injury, however it left the ears and part of the neck exposed which many of the women found unacceptable.

According to FIFA they had spoken to the teams to assure that players from both Iran and Jordan were fully informed of the regulations, and according to Rana Housseini, head of Jordan Women’s soccer, many of the Jordanian team members chose not to play as a result.

The politicization of sports and uniforms is nothing new. At the Winter 1980 Olympics, after the “Miracle on Ice” win by the United States over the Soviet Union in hockey, it was decreed to be a “transcendent moment in our history”, and that the victory had long-lasting impact on American minds and lives.  And of course the patriotic nature of team uniforms, and their declaration of identity, is hard to escape. So much so that most pubs in the UK have banned the wearing of team colours to cut down on violence between perfect strangers who support rival teams.

Thus, it was not a surprise, when listening to NPR’s interview with James Dorsey, author of The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer blog, that soccer in the mideast can have highly political underpinnings. I am rather ignorant of the actual climate, but if anyone has more information please feel free to share your knowledge in the comments, or visit Dorsey’s blog to learn more.  But, ignorant as I am, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s near-immediate use of the words “imperialist” and “dictators” to describe FIFA and its directors seem only what should be expected.

And yet there is something very unsettling about a supposedly neutral governing body engaging in the political foray, not least of which being the reprehensible business practices and sexist statements of the organization’s president, Sepp Blatter. Blatter hired Henry Kissinger to “root out corruption”, and has said that women soccer players should wear hot pants to “bring a feminine aesthetic” to the field and sex up the sport to attract more fans. It is hard to see the banning of an entire team from playing because they were dressed according to their religious rules regarding modesty as truly neutral and safety-based when coming from someone so comfortable with the objectification of women.

And as Jezebel reported, it is not just soccer, but everything from weightlifting to badminton, that is forcing Muslim women athletes to choose between competing in their sport or abiding by the sartorial rules of their faith.  As stated on Time’s Global Spin blog, this could have a far-reaching, detrimental impact on women’s sports, as many younger Muslim women are now choosing not to compete at all.

Is this helping or hurting the perceptions of Middle Eastern/Muslim women? What is your opinion on the ruling?  Do you have any information to add to that already presented?

Thanks to Monica for her help with this post.

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