Hijab ban overturned: Why FIBA’s new decision affects more than just Muslim athletes

On Thursday, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) made a groundbreaking announcement: The world’s governing body for the sport would no longer restrict headgear during FIBA-sanctioned games. While the decision will now allow many female Muslim athletes to compete on the international stage, the group is not the only one to benefit from the bylaw modification.

“This is a victory for inclusion in international basketball,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who served on FIBA’s central board from 2006–2014, told Excelle Sports. “I think the immediate beneficiaries are Muslim female athletes, [but] the prohibition applied to all kinds of headgear, so many groups will be affected by this modification.”

Those groups include Sikh athletes who wear turbans or other headwear, in addition to Orthodox Jews who wear yarmulkes or kippahs.

The new modification also doesn’t require headgear to have religious significance either. FIBA only expects that the article worn matches the color of the team uniforms, does not cover the athlete’s face at all, has no protrusions and doesn’t pose danger to the player or others.

Athlete safety, in fact, was the reason FIBA first implemented the bylaw rather than due to any anti-religious reasons, Ackerman adds.

[More from Excelle Sports: Basketball’s governing body approves the use of religious headgear]

“In FIBA’s defense, over the years, the [bylaw] was thought to be apolitical and areligious in terms of garb,” she said.

Before the modification, the bylaw stated that “players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.” At first, FIBA authorities were worried about head wraps, caps and pinned scarfs slipping off and becoming a potential hazard on the court.

But over the past decade, sportswear manufacturers like Nike have created hijabs and headcovers that eliminate many of these concerns. Ackerman believes the board finally recognized these changes.

“When I served on the board, we were unable to get a change to be made so I commend the current board for recognizing the need and keeping FIBA in step with the times,” she said. “[The decision] has been an overdue development and one that hopefully will bolster the participation of women in basketball in different parts of the world.”

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