SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — The world football body’s decision to allow hijab in international competitions is winning plaudits from Australia’s Muslim footballers for allowing them to practice sport while respecting their religious freedoms.
“My whole life is pretty much sports," Assmaah Helal, 25, a center-back with the UNSW Eastern Lions Women's Super League team who wears the hijab, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, July 9.
"It'll have very positive implications.”
The FIFA reversed last week a ban on the wearing of hijab by Muslim footballers.
“There will be that awareness that Muslim women can pursue an elite level now … and showing that there is nothing stopping them from representing Australia at the international level,” said Helal.
Hijab was banned from FIFA competitions in 2007.
But calls grew for reversing the ban after Iran’s female football team was disqualified from the Olympics over wearing the headscarf.
In March, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) initially allowed women players to wear hijab and the decision was finally approved last week.
Feeling “absolute joy and relief”, Helal described the decision to end the hijab ban on pitch as good news for Muslim footballers around the world.
Though Football Federation Australia did not ban the headscarf, Helal was denied the right to represent Australia at the Olympics or the World Cup under the 2007 FIFA ban.
“Initially it was really disheartening because football really promotes women, but it just put a halt on it,” Helal said.
“If girls wearing the hijab were keen on playing, it put a barrier on them. It was contradictory and it was just not what football stood for."
The Australian Muslim footballer rejected claims that wearing hijab by footballers posed a strangulation risk.
“I felt that was unjustified because there was no proof so I thought it was a bit discriminatory,” Helal said.
Moya Dodd, the vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation and a former Matilda, a famous Australian design company, was also happy with the FIFA’s decision.
Dodd was part of a year-long campaign to overturn the hijab ban, spearheaded by the FIFA vice-president and executive committee member Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
She believes the ruling is a turning point for the game and would increase the numbers of female Muslim footballers.
“It's just a matter of time before there is a hijab-wearing Matilda,” she said
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Hijab has never posed a problem for veiled Muslim athletes.
Physical Olympic sports such as rugby and taekwondo allow Muslim women to wear the headscarf in competition.
In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, half a dozen of veiled Egyptians, three Iranians, an Afghan and a Yemeni completed in sprinting, rowing, taekwondo and archery.
During the games, many hijab-clad athletes made it to the medal schedule, including veiled Bahraini sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, who made history for Muslim women athletes after winning a gold medal at the 2006 West Asian Games.— www.shafaqna.com/english/