What is banned in French schools and Turkish libraries, but allowed on the football pitch? Answer: the hijab, which women will soon be allowed to wear when they play the beautiful game.
The International Football Association Board, world soccer's rule-making body, unanimously agreed to overturn a ban on the headscarf at its meeting in Surrey yesterday.
But it took the intervention of a Jordanian prince, Premier League footballers – and a new Velcro-based design – to convince the guardians of the game that Islamic women should be granted their wish. It is expected they will be able to wear the hijab while playing once the decision has been ratified in July. the ban was introduced in 2007.
The issue has sparked heated discussion in the United Nations and proved controversial with Muslim women teams. Last year, Iran was prevented from playing their 2012 Olympic second round qualifier against Jordan because they refused to remove their hijabs before kickoff. Iran had topped their group in the first round of Olympic qualifiers, but were handed 3-0 defeats as a penalty, ending their dreams of qualifying for London 2012.
Yesterday's ruling by the board – made up of four representatives from the world governing body Fifa and four from British home associations – was a triumph for the campaign, led by Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. The prince, a senior Fifa executive, had warned it would be a retrograde step to turn down his proposal. He argued that preventing Muslim women players from covering their heads amounted to unfair prejudice, a stance supported by United Nations officials and Premier League players, including the Reading striker Jason Roberts and Tottenham players Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen.
Prince Ali, who has suggested long hair was more likely to cause injury on the field than a headscarf, has previously said he had not found records of any hijab-related injuries in women's football.
A parallel has been drawn between the ban and Chelsea's male goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has worn a protective cap since sustaining a serious head injury. If Cech was not in breach of the rules, how could the hijab be?
The new design, fastened with Velcro instead of pins, persuaded Fifa that safety was no longer an issue, bringing soccer in line with rugby and track and field events.
Some Islamic countries frown upon women playing sport, but Prince Ali, 36, said: "I'm confident we will see many delighted players returning to the game. This piece of cloth is simply an issue of modesty; it has nothing to do with religion."
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